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Estrella beats Cactus Shadows in home opener

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JUSTIN WILLIAMSON of Estrella Foothills fires the ball across the diamond March 9 against Cactus Shadows. Williamson had an RBI double in the third inning and scored in the fifth, helping the Wolves win 6-4. View photo by Ray Thomas
JUSTIN WILLIAMSON of Estrella Foothills fires the ball across the diamond March 9 against Cactus Shadows. Williamson had an RBI double in the third inning and scored in the fifth, helping the Wolves win 6-4. View photo by Ray Thomas

Wolves’ Corbin Wright comes up clutch on emotional day

Estrella Foothills baseball won its home opener March 9, and its hero was the most appropriate person considering the circumstance.

On the day Corbin Wright’s mother, Shelly — an English teacher at the school — was having cancer surgery, Wright delivered the go-ahead RBI’s in the bottom of the fifth inning with a pinch-hit single, leading the Wolves to a 6-4 victory over Cave Creek Cactus Shadows.

It’s pretty cool,” Estrella coach Pat McCubbins said. “I wanted to see something special, I wanted to give him an opportunity, and you can’t describe how clutch that is, especially being 0-2 there. It was outstanding.”

Wright swung at and missed the first two pitches in the at bat, but then deposited a curveball into right-center field, plating both Tyler Godfrey and Justin Williamson to break a 3-3 tie.

I came out aggressive in the beginning, knowing I had to put the ball in play to score these guys with two outs,” Wright said. “After swinging through two balls and fouling one off, I was just scooting up on the plate, hoping he would throw something outside that I could muscle to right, and it ended up being that way.”

Wright said he had spoken with his father before the start of the game and was informed that Shelly had come out of surgery 30 minutes earlier than normal for the procedure, so he wasn’t too concerned, he said. Still, it was an unusual circumstance.

It’s always different not having them up in the stands cheering me on, but it was nice to know she was watching and cheering us on from the hospital,” Wright said.

The victory was much needed for Estrella (6-4), which lost its first two power-points games and was shell shocked in the Florence tournament championship. The Wolves had a 5-2 advantage against Florence March 4, but gave up four runs in the last inning and lost 6-5.

We lost the championship game in the bottom of the seventh, and [March 7] we’re up 1-0 in the fifth [against Apache Junction] and gave up that lead as well, and end up losing,” McCubbins said. “We talked last night about not making it bigger than it is, figuring out how to finish games, and probably the best part of tonight is our entire practice last night was offensive situations. We spent 30 minutes on nothing but bunting, and the inning we needed it, we had two guys that got bunts down, got guys in scoring position, and we get the huge pinch hit by Corbin, which was awesome.”

The fifth inning opened with a walk to Godfrey, who was bunted to second by Sam Cunningham. Williamson was then intentionally walked, and Christian McCubbins bunted the runners to second and third, setting up Wright’s pinch hit. Jake Kazanecki and Jacob McLeod followed with singles of their own, which scored Wright to give the Wolves an insurance run.

Cactus Shadows (3-6) got one back in the seventh, making it 6-4, but the Falcons left a pair of runners on base when Wolves reliever Ryan Vanderhei struck out Peyton McGregor, ending the game.

McCubbins said he was pleased with the win, especially considering the amount of emotion and excitement that comes along with the first home game of the season.

These guys have been talking all week long about being at home, and being at home also means there’s a lot of nerves, they’re playing in front of their classmates and parents,” he said. “So, we were a little bit anxious, and it showed a little bit, but the best thing was these guys were able to settle down, play the game.”

Estrella plays in the newly realigned 4A conference as one of the smallest schools attendance wise. That presents the Wolves, a team that has had plenty of success over the years, with a tougher challenge.

It’s not like it used to be where scores are going to be very lopsided, especially moving up to 4A,” McCubbins said. “The analogy we made is every game is going to be like a major league game. It’s going to be a 5-3 game, a 4-2 game, a 2-1 game. For them to finish tonight like they did, especially because we put ourselves with a little bit of adversity — we had two opportunities to end the game [in the seventh] — but they stayed with it and got it done.”

Early momentum

Estrella faced a dire situation in the top of the first, but minimized the damage. Cactus Shadows loaded the bases with nobody out thanks to a pair of hits and a walk, but Estrella pitcher Cunningham induced a 5-2-3 double play out of cleanup hitter Joe Palanzo. The Wolves had a chance to get out of the inning unscathed, but McGregor followed with a single to left, scoring two runs to give the Falcons an early 2-0 lead.

Estrella responded immediately in the bottom of the first. Godfrey, the Wolves’ leadoff hitter, swung at the first pitch he saw from Cactus Shadows’ Hayden Parker, blasting it over the right-field fence to cut the Falcons’ lead in half.

One of the goals we set today was to come out and have energy,” Godfrey said. “We talked about it yesterday at practice how we were just flat [March 9 against Apache Junction], and we came out and had a lot of energy the entire night, didn’t fold. [The home run] was nice. I’ve been kind of struggling at the plate and that boosted my confidence right there.”

Cactus Shadows made it 3-1 in the top of the third on a Palanzo homer to left, but the Wolves answered again in the bottom of the third. Godfrey reached on an error, and with two outs, Williamson doubled to left, scoring Godfrey to make it 3-2.

The Wolves tied the game with two outs in the fourth when McLeod was hit by a pitch, stole second and came home on a Rob Jesionowski bloop single to left. That set up the fifth-inning heroics from Wright.

Cunningham got the pitching win for Estrella, scattering eight hits over six innings. He walked one and struck out three.

I was just trying to go straight to the plate, let them put the ball in play, let the people behind me make plays, because they’re hitting the ball off me, why not have it go to someone behind me, right?” Cunningham said.

Sam did really good,” added Godfrey, who caught the game for the Wolves. “He had lots of control over the ball, and the batters couldn’t handle him. It’s really nice catching Sam. It’s fun because he hits his spots every time.”

McCubbins has been pleased with Cunningham this season, he said. The biggest thing is he’s healthy.

It’s nice to have him on the mound, because he had an arm injury as a freshman, so he didn’t get to pitch at all last year,” McCubbins said. “He did a great job.”

Estrella played again March 10, but managed only two hits in a 5-0 loss against Flagstaff Coconino. Still, the win over Cactus Shadows was a nice turnaround after a tough couple of games preceding it.

The biggest thing, and we dealt with it all year as we jumped to 4A, what are the moments with each team, each program, that lets us know that we’re OK, that we can play at that level?” McCubbins said. “I think tonight, definitely, as we look back later in the season, is going to be that turning point that we’re going to be fine.”

Estrella played Tuesday at Chandler Seton Catholic. The result was unavailable at press time. The Wolves are home at 3:45 p.m. today against Prescott, and host Combs at 6 p.m. Thursday.

 

Casey Pritchard can be reached at caseypritchard@westvalleyview.com or on Twitter @CaseyonSports.



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