Junior Brendon Erickson smacked a solo home run off the left field scoreboard in the top of the seventh inning to give O'Connor (16-8, 6-2 Northwest Region) the winnin run in a 5-4 game at Deer Valley (5-14, 3-4).
And Erickson wasn't done there. In his second inning of relief, he sent down the Skyhawks in order to secure a vital victory for the Eagles.
O'Connor entered the game at No. 16 in the 5A-II power rankings. Wins over Deer Valley, Goldwater in two games later this week, and Kingman and Willow Canyon next week are a must for securing a postseason spot.
"We need to take care of business. I knew this would be a tough one because (Deer Valley) has been getting better," O'Connor coach Jeff Baumgartner said. "(Erickson) got a ball he could hit, and he's capable of doing that."
For Deer Valley, Tuesday's finish was another study in frustration. 2011 has been the most trying of Larry Eubanks' 10 years as Skyhawks coach.
Eubanks' annoyance came not with the game winner, but rather the little mistakes that gave O'Connor more chances and wore on senior ace Darian Ramage.
"You get a popup down the line and you don't even get leather on it - a line drive to center field and we don't get it," Eubanks said. "All those things eventually add up to, if nothing else, more pitches. And you've got to bring somebody out of a ball game earlier than you would like."
For the first four innings Ramage and O'Connor junior Josh Fogerlie traded zeroes on the scoreboard. But a pair of errors extended the hard-throwing Ramage.
Fatigue began to creep in during the top of the fifth. With one out, senior Cody Kimes hit a triple to center field. Sophomore Brandon Lebouef followed with an RBI single to give the Eagles a 1-0 advantage.
While Deer Valley's mistakes had a more subtle effect on Ramage, O'Connor's gaffes submarined Fogerlie's outing in one fell swoop.
Entering the bottom of the fifth Fogerlie had allowed one hit. Then senior Andrew Nicholas reached first on a fielding error.
Junior Zac Napoleon came in to run for Nicholas. He scooted to third after an overthrow on a pickoff attempt. Senior Matt Renick lofted a high fly ball to the left side of the infield. It dropped.
Then Fogerlie walked senior Zach Richter to load the bases with no outs. Junior Anthony Kupstis fell behind in the count, but knocked in two runs with a single.
Sophomore Andrew Watkins' sacrifice bunt moved Deer Valley's runners to second and third. Ramage hit a sharp, but routine grounder to second. It bounced off the heel of the fielder's glove, causing him to rush a wild throw to first.
Two more Deer Valley runs scored on the last of the Eagles four errors in the fifth inning. Fogerlie's afternoon was over.
"We did some good things defensively earlier. It was just that one inning where for high school kids when the wheels fall off it goes bad in a hurry," Baumgartner said.
In the top of the sixth, O'Connor got back into the game against a laboring Ramage. Freshman Greg Saenz hit a single, Erickson was hit by a pitch and sophomore Titan Jones walked to load the bases with one out.
Kimes came through again on a bloop single to shallow left center.
Ramage induced a popup. But with two outs, sophomore Owen Sanborn tied the game on another single to shallow center.
"We have some guys who aren't afraid to go deep in counts. If you can do that early enough in the game, you tend to tire a guy out," Baumgartner said. "(Ramage) was on today. He had his good stuff. We just got fortunate to get a couple of balls off our fists."
Ramage finished with eight strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
"Darian's a quality athlete, that's why he's going to a Division 1 school," Eubanks said. "He comes to the field with that mental toughness that you'd like all of them to have. Today he threw good enough to win."
Richter finished the inning and sent down the first two batters in the seventh before Erickson broke the tie with his blast.
While the inexperienced Deer Valley squad is not in the playoff hunt like O'Connor, Eubanks' frustration stems mostly from his squad's approach and its lack of consistent improvement.
"You can only be young so long. We've got five games to go in the season and you want to keep saying we're inexperienced but that's not true anymore," Eubanks said. "We're still lacking in some intensity and mental toughness on occasion but we played hard."