How many times can a team keep doing this?
The answer, as it relates to Chaparral baseball's state tournament streak this spring, is at least one more game.
Maalox might be flying off the shelves in areas of Scottsdale, but it's been worth the antacid-for-victory trade that the Firebirds continue to tinker with. This time, a three-run lead disappeared in the bottom of the seventh inning, but the Firebirds found a few holes and fortuitous bounces to pull out a 7-5 victory against No. 2 Tucson in the final Division I elimination round game on Saturday night at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
It also means Shea Blvd. will be swinging on Tuesday, as the 10th-seeded but two-time defending champion Firebirds meet rival-Desert Mountain for the state championship at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Diablo.
Fittingly for Chaparral's "style" this postseason, the Firebirds and Wolves split a pair of one-run games earlier this season.
Since losing to this same Tucson team early in the third round of the tournament, craziness ensued in elimination-game victories against Mountain Pointe, Desert Vista and Pinnacle (all by one run).
The craziness continued.
"It just epitomizes what they've done the past three weeks," Chaparral coach Sam Messina said.
Chaparral led 5-2 after five innings on the strength of starting pitcher Andrew Shaps's outing, a two-run home run by Michael Diamond and a couple nifty catches in foul territory by Tanner Bollig.
Diamond came on in relief of Shaps and allowed a run but dodged major trouble in the fifth and sixth innings, but consecutive walks to begin Tucson's bottom of the seventh inning led to turmoil.
After Messina brought in lefty Dillon Jackson-Bigcrane to close the game - as he did against Mountain Pointe two days ago - a hit, sacrifice bunt, hit-by-pitch, fielder's choice and two more walks followed.
Jackson-Bigcrane managed a strikeout to end the inning, but it was now 5-5 and headed for extra innings.
Jackson-Bigcrane said he was looking for an elevated fastball, having played against Tucson pitcher Alex Robles in club ball before. So, taking matters into his own hands, the lefty slugger got said fastball and began the eighth by beating the defensive shift for a leadoff double to left. Two batters later a throwing error home by Tucson allowed one run to score. Colter Kilgour was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out, and, after a strikeout, Shaps walked to force in another run.
Jackson-Bigcrane, one of the very few kids who played a part on the two previous championship teams, pitched a scoreless eighth for the win. He also had three hits, a walk and scored twice for the Firebirds.
"Our younger guys are getting it," he said of postseason baseball. "....At the end of the day, it could have gone either way."
Shaps was headed for the victory after his four-plus innings of two-hit ball with six strikeouts. Robles reached base in all five of his plate appearances for Tucson, as the Firebirds walked seven Tucson hitters but only allowed six hits.
"Against a team like this in this classification (Division I) you can't do that, you can't put yourself behind a (five-run deficit)," Tucson coach Oscar Romero said. "...Nothing can take away from the season we had."
The same can be said for Chaparral, which is a completely different roster than the previous two championship teams. The third road taken back to the title game was nowhere near as easy either, but this team showed there's something to be said for the road less traveled.
"Right now we're on fumes but we'll come back and find a way to compete on Tuesday," Messina said.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.