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The Coconino Panthers made a late push against the Buckeye Union Hawks on Thursday but couldn't catch up, falling 7-3 in the 4A Conference ballgame at Coconino High School.

Getting his team onto the scoreboard, Jack Ginsberg grounded out for an RBI in the fifth inning for the 16th-ranked Panthers, who went into the frame facing a 3-0 deficit. The bases had been loaded, but a pickle play between home plate and third base on a squeeze bunt play ended as the first out of the inning.

Buckeye Union, entering the game as the 4A's No. 23 team in the power rankings, soon regained the three-run lead Coconino erased. After Panthers relief pitcher Tyler Tapia put two runners on via hit by pitches, an RBI made it 4-1. By the end of the inning, the Hawks had their largest lead of the day at 7-1.

"It's tough. It was a team that we thought we were better than and we are at home and it's Senior Day, so there are a lot of things going on with that, so it's tough for us," said Panthers manager Daniel Vander Valk. His team has now lost four of its past six games and is in the mix for a spot in the postseason with just five games remaining, including a two-game series with crosstown rival Flagstaff High School next week on Tuesday and Thursday.

Now the focus is to bounce back against Flagstaff.

Buckeye Union entered the day hot as winners of four of its last five games, and got a win streak started after beating Cactus 12-2 on Wednesday to rebound from a loss to Flagstaff.

Meanwhile, the loss moved Coconino to below .500 again at 6-7.

The Panthers loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth, and brought in two more runs. Buckeye made quick work of the Panthers in the bottom half of the final frame to secure the win.

"We struggled at it today," Vander Valk said of moving guys around the bags. "A big part of what we try to do as a team is execution, bunting, and hitting and running, and we were 0 for 4 on that today, and Buckeye did a good job of getting their guys over."

Jake Plecas started on the mound for the Panthers and gave up a homer, with Tapia and Trevor Sevier working relief.

The Panthers play host to start the rivalry series with the Eagles, and first pitch for the game is set for 4 p.m.

Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com.

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