It was fitting that Tuesday’s crosstown baseball game between No. 19 Coconino and No. 21 Flagstaff came down to the wire.
After the rivals battled back and forth all game, changing leads four times, Coconino retired the side in the top of the seventh in a 6-all ballgame. Flagstaff’s Josh Cornelius struck out Coconino’s Jordan Lucero to lead off the inning but the next batter, Tanner Mickelson, hit a grounder down to Flagstaff’s third baseman -- hitting him in the face after the ball popped out of the infielder's glove.
With Mickelson on first, Trevor Sevier connected for a double to deep center to put himself and his teammates in scoring position.
Flagstaff chose to intentionally walk Nathan Flores, bringing up Evan Vander Valk -- who was hit by a pitch earlier in the fourth, drew a walk in the second and was struck out in the fifth by Cornelius. Based on what Vander Valk had done throughout the game, and that he has just a .231 batting average for the season, it seemed like a solid call to try to set up the chance to stay alive.
The choice backfired on the Eagles. Cornelius plunked Vander Valk on the first pitch, bringing in Mickelson for the walk-off, 7-6, win at Coconino High School.
“You know what, we hit several of their guys today, so it’s good that it came back and was a benefit for us in the end,” Panthers manager Daniel Vander Valk, Evan’s dad, said. "I’m just proud of my guys for showing some heart there in the sixth inning. Nothing you can expect more out of a rivalry game than just back and forth. But I love the way it finished, the way our guys showed heart there at the end.”
Coconino improved to 8-8 overall and 5-5 in the Grand Canyon Region standings, while Flagstaff dropped to 8-8 and 4-7.
As a team Coconino tallied 11 hits, while the Eagles had seven. Coconino started the afternoon with Sevier on the mound, later replacing him with Tyler Tapia in the top of the third and closing with Caden Fordyce. The three combined for seven strikeouts, eight walks and six runs.
Flagstaff started Carter Kasprzyk, who pitched until a rough fifth inning. The Eagles entered the bottom of the fifth with a 4-1 lead after scoring twice on the Panthers in the top of the frame. Kasprzyk had done well, allowing just one run in the bottom of the first. Coconino rallied in the fifth, scoring five runs to come back from the deficit and retake the lead.
The bottom of the fifth started with Tapia hitting into a Flagstaff error, then his teammate Kyle Casados hit a double to center to put the Panthers in scoring position. Tyler Walters hit into a flyout for the first out of the inning but Lucero followed up with a two-RBI single to cut the deficit to 4-3.
After Mickelson roped a double, Sevier hit an RBI single past third, bringing in Lucero, and then Mickelson made it home off an error in the field to give Coconino the 5-4 lead.
The four-run rally prompted Flagstaff to bring Cornelius in for Kasprzyk. Cornelius allowed an RBI double from Flores, the first batter he saw, before striking out the next two and ending the inning with his Eagles down 6-4.
“Early, absolutely, Carter Kasprzyk came out and was throwing really well today,” Daniel Vander Valk said of the Eagles starter. “He was hitting his spots, he kinda had us off-balance a little. We had a fortunate inning where we got to him a little bit; maybe he got tired, maybe we made an adjustment. But once we got to him I was really confident after that.”
Flagstaff answered with a two-run effort in the top of the sixth behind a two-run center-field double by Rylan DoBosh to again tie the game. After the two-run extra-base hit, Coconino brought in Fordyce, who, despite walking the first batter he saw, ended the inning with the game still tied at six apiece to set up Coconino’s seventh-inning win.
“Our guys just know it’s never over 'til it’s over, so even though they tied it, Fordyce was on fire and we had confidence he was gonna shut it down,” Daniel Vander Valk said.
Flores led the Panthers with three hits and had one RBI while Walters and Sevier each brought in two runs. DoBosh tied with Cornelius for the Eagles lead in hits with two each.
Coconino and Flagstaff will face off again Thursday at 3:45 p.m. at Flagstaff High School.