In the new single-elimination format for the first two rounds of the Division I baseball tournament, there is very little margin for error.
And when you give the opposing team a four-run cushion in the top of the first inning, there’s even less.
No. 6 Mesquite played with fire on Tuesday afternoon but rallied for six runs in the final three innings for a 7-6 victory over No. 11 Red Mountain in the second round of the postseason.
The Wildcats will move on to the double-elimination part of the tournament where it will face off with No. 3 seed Sandra Day O’Connor on Thursday.
Casey Howard went 2-for-4 with a home run and the game-winning RBI single with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning. The Wildcats trailed by a run heading into the bottom of the frame but John Ferendelli tied the game with an RBI single to set up Howard’s heroics.
“I was just trying to put it in play,” Howard said. “I was trying to go (to the opposite field) because I had two strikes, and (it turned into) the game-winning hit.”
The Wildcats had to work hard to be in that position.
A two-run home run by Jordan Zimmerman highlighted a four-run first inning for Red Mountain, and the margin was 5-1 to heading into the fifth inning.
Howard hit his solo shot to cut the deficit to three, and Mesquite scored three more in the sixth, tying the game on a single by Brad Holland.
Red Mountain answered right back in the top of the seventh with back-to-back doubles from Aaron Smith and John Havird to go back on top, 6-5, but Mesquite rallied again.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” Mesquite coach Jeff Holland said. “We dig ourselves a hole and then we have to claw out.”
The Wildcats put together the game-winning rally using players with a lot of playoff experience from the past few seasons. Howard, Ferendelli, Seth Fretheim, Garrett Jeffries, Spencer Applebach and Jake Howard have been in moments like these in the past and didn’t panic, even as the early innings slipped away without any runs.
“I knew that if Seth got on we’d have a good chance to win this ballgame,” Jeffries said.
Havird went 2-fo-4 with a double and two RBIs for the Mountain Lions. Red Mountain defeated Centennial in the first round and came very close to pulling the upset in this one to make the quarterfinals.
Fretheim was nearly caught stealing in the bottom of the seventh inning, and a few pitches later he scored the tying run.
“There was a lot of intensity,” Holland said. “They knew what was on the line. If you lose, you’re done. We got a couple of big hits... the baseball gods were good to Mesquite baseball today.”