Coming off an extra-inning win, the Coconino Panthers couldn't muster the same late-game magic on Friday against the Estrella Foothills Wolves.
Unable to capitalize on a bases-loaded situation in the bottom half of the final inning, the Panthers gave up an early lead against the Wolves and never re-established it on the way to the 6-4 loss that ended a Coconino two-game homestand. Four straight hits in the first frame of the 4A Conference game put the host ahead 3-0, but the Wolves took the lead in the fourth and held on for their second straight victory.
"It was exciting to see our team come out and score a bunch of runs early; we haven't done that in a while," said Panthers manager Daniel Vander Valk, whose team's record dropped to 1-2. "We just can't fall asleep in the middle innings."
After a run scored courtesy of a Wolves' throw to third base ending up in the dugout, Jake Plecas hit an RBI single and Jackson Foster connected for an RBI double, but was caught trying to extend the play to third.
Plecas finished 1 for 4 at the plate, and the starting pitcher lasted 3 1/3 innings on the mound. In his first start of the regular-season, he allowed four runs (one earned) on five hits, issued no walks and hit one batter.
Estrella doubled and singled in runs on Plecas to take a 4-3 lead, which they added to with an RBI single against Coconino's first relief pitcher, left-hander Chance Pierce.
The Wolves tagged on another when Tyler Godfrey took Cayden Fordyce out of the park for a solo home run in the top of the fifth with one out down on a strikeout. Fordyce, who worked two innings, struck out the next two Wolves and had a good outing in the inning despite the right-field blast toward the Panthers scoreboard.
"I was pretty excited with Fordyce coming in and throwing a few good innings. He did a good job in relief there. We saw some good things out of Jake Plecas, they just did a good job of working counts on him and made him throw a lot of pitches," Vander Valk said.
Coconino Panthers starting pitcher Jake Plecas (23) throws Friday afternoon during a game against Estrella Foothills at Coconino High.
Plecas had four innings of relief against Lee Williams, who Coconino beat on Tuesday for a home-opening 7-6 win in nine innings.
Coconino, which left a total of six runners in scoring position, missed opportunities to take back the game in last two frames. Foster made it a 6-4 ballgame in the fifth when a run scored on the fielder's choice, but the Panthers left runners stranded at second and third. In the seventh, Ty Walters and Foster each singled and Ty Furr, with two outs recorded, walked to load the bases, only to see them stay that way.
Walters was 2 for 3 with a walk and had three solid plays at shortstop to help his team stay within striking distance. The junior chased down a high hopper up the middle and made the throw on the run for the out in the top of the second. The next batter hit to Walters, who made the throw to end the 1-2-3 inning. Walters also completed a fielder's choice play in the fourth to stop the bleeding.
Coconino’s Ty Furr (22) takes a swing Friday afternoon during play against Estrella Foothills at Coconino High.
Mistakes were costly for the Panthers. They started out the third inning committing two straight errors with a passed ball allowing a runner to get to second. The second error put Estrella on the board and an RBI single three batters later had the Wolves biting, down 3-2 before a Plecas dropped third strike ended the inning.
"It was a good game. One thing I talked about was at the end of a close game, I always tell them win of lose I need to see some heart. We don't want to go into a one- or two-run game and walk into it and strike out three times," Vander Valk said. "We did a good job, put the guys on who could have tied it or won it, and that's exciting."
Up next for Coconino, which will be looking to complete its first sweep of the season, is the second and final regular-season meeting with Lee Williams in Kingman on Tuesday.