Verdugo strikes out 18 before Sanchez wins it in 7th with RBI single
GLENDALE - As Owen Sanchez stepped out of the dugout for what could have been his final high school at-bat, coach Mark Chandler told him to make a memory.
The Sahuaro senior will never forget what happened next.
Sanchez hit a walk-off RBI single in the seventh and final inning to score Nick Cisney from second base and give the fourth-ranked Cougars a 4-3 win over Nogales in Tuesday's Division II state tournament elimination game.
"I'm going off to Providence for college and (Chandler) said, 'Take one back to Providence with you,'" Sanchez said.
"From that point, I had to get something done."
The game-winning hit in their final at-bat at Camelback Ranch Stadium not only moved the Cougars two wins from the state finals, it made sure a stellar outing from left hander Alex Verdugo didn't go to waste.
The junior struck out a career-high 18 batters and gave up two hits over six innings of work before giving way to Vinnie Tarantola, who threw a scoreless seventh inning for the win.
Verdugo was only three strikeouts away from tying the state's single-game record.
"I wasn't counting (strikeouts) out in my head, but I figured I had a lot because I saw a lot of batters going back to the box," Verdugo said. "I was aware of it, but I really wasn't counting."
Sahuaro (27-5) will play No. 3 Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep Thursday at Camelback Ranch in another elimination game. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Nogales starter Marcel Renteria, who finished with 10 strikeouts, was one strike away from sending the game to extra innings. He had Sanchez in an 0-2 hole with two outs and runners on first and second.
Then Sanchez, the team's No. 9 hitter, sent a shot up the middle - exactly what his coach told him to do.
"0h-and-two is not a good spot to be in, but I knew he was coming with a slider because that's what he struck me out on last time," Sanchez said. "That was a good one to go off on. We got another game, but I'm glad I got that job done."
Said Verdugo: "He's one of the leaders, and for him to come through like that for some of his last games in a Cougars uniform is great."
Sahuaro jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Nogales (22-10) in the first inning but couldn't produce much offense beyond that. Sahuaro left the bases loaded three times.
The Apaches scored all three runs in the third inning with the help of a hit batsman, a walk and an error. Verdugo gave up both hits in that inning, but he was essentially flawless except for that sequence. Two hitters advanced to first base on dropped strike threes, and two more grounded out.
"He didn't even have his good stuff," Chandler said about Verdugo. "The first couple innings his velocity was down, then he started amping it up midway through. He got himself into that own trouble in the third and they got a few little scratches on him, but that's a (great) pitcher right there."
Contact Daniel Gaona at 807-7761 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter danielgaona13