A lot can change in eight days. Just ask the Valley Vista and O'Connor baseball games.
On April 25, Valley Vista junior Nelson Benjamin shut down O'Connor and outlasted senior Tommy Lay in a 2-1 pitchers' duel at Maryvale Baseball Park.
In Tuesday's 5A-II playoffs elimination game at Valley Vista, Benjamin was in center field and Lay had a 5-0 lead before he stepped on the mound. He continued his mastery of the Monsoon, as the Eagles cruised 11-1 in five innings.
"We didn't make pitches and couldn't get guys out and their kid on the mound was good," Valley Vista coach Klent Corley said.
Junior Caleb Wood started with a strikeout for Valley Vista (16-13), then ran into a buzzsaw. Junior Wesley Sutton singled, and junior Brendon Erickson knocked him in by doubling down the third base line.
Erickson scored after a Valley Vista infielder misplayed Austin Daus' grounder. Freshman Greg Saenz singled. Then sophomore Owen Sanborn drilled a fastball over the left-field fence for a three-run homer.
"In that first inning we set the tone, that we were going to swing the sticks a bit," O'Connor coach Jeff Baumgartner said. "Owen Sanborn's been working hard, we've seen that kind of potential in him. For him to come through in a stage like this ... is really impressive."
O'Connor (20-12) now had ample cushion for its ace. Benjamin led off and reached first on an error, was caught off base, but escaped on a high throw to second. Wood drove him in with a single.
Wood reached second, but Lay induced a ground ball to end the inning. He did not allow another runner in scoring position.
"Things kind of get overshadowed when you score that many runs," Baumgartner said. "As a pitcher, you can lose focus. To be able to respond after that unearned run - to shut them down the rest of the way - was huge."
Wood pitched a scoreless second inning, before giving up a single and picking up a fielding error to start the third. Junior Matt Garringer entered in relief and didn't fare much better.
A Sanborn single loaded the bases and junior Michael Gonzalez walked to bring in a run. Garringer recorded an out before sophomore Brandon Lebouef's single made the lead 7-1.
Senior Josh Kuntz came in and picked up two quick outs. He sent the side down in order in the fourth.
But in the fifth, O'Connor's offense was humming again. Sanborn led off with a double and senior Cody Kimes drove him in. Lebouef was hit by a pitch that bounced in the dirt.
Senior Cody Kimes sent home both runners with a double. Erickson provided the capper, plating Kimes with a single.
The teams went in opposite directions after starting the playoffs with identical 5-4 losses. No. 15 seed O'Connor fell behind No. 2 Scottsdale Chaparral 5-0 before rallying for four runs and nearly tying the Firebirds.
"Between the Valley Vista games we've had, the two Boulder Creek games we had and Chaparral, those are some of the best teams in the state. For us to play with Chaparral, I think it was kind of eye opening for our guys," Baumgartner said.
No. 10 seed Valley Vista tied No. 7 Tucson Ironwood Ridge with a four-run fourth inning, only to see the Nighthawks regain the lead in the bottom of the fifth.
This was the first time O'Connor didn't face Benjamin this year - their other loss was 13-2 - and the difference was noticeable.
Though they'll play one less playoff game than last season, Corley said the Monsoon improved this year.
"We know we took a step up this year and we're going to work our butt off to take another step," Corley said.
Most of the team will be back next year, as only seniors Kuntz, Gary Springer and Raleigh Richardson graduate. Eight of the nine batters in Valley Vista's order Tuesday will be back.
And having just finished its fourth varsity season, the onus is on this group of players and coaches to compete with 5A's best in 2012.
"I think we can go away from the building phase now. I think we're past that. We have a team that's ready to go compete," Corley said. "We struggled in the playoffs, but I think our kids are confident. We don't have the thought of building in our minds, it's just winning now."