All three phases of the game came together for the Coconino Panthers baseball team Saturday afternoon.
The 22nd-ranked Panthers keep their playoff hopes alive with a key region win over No. 26 Bradshaw Mountain, 9-2, at home on Senior Day.
Zac Lopez pitched five strong innings, allowing one run on two hits while striking out four batters for the Panthers. Lopez was backed up by a strong showing at the plate from Trevor Sevier, who went 2 for 3 and three RBIs.
Jordan Lucero and Tyler Walters each drove in a pair of runs as the Panthers offense totaled 11 hits on the Bears. Coconino improved to 7-8 overall and 4-5 in the Grand Canyon Region.
“I think today a big difference is that we put all three phases together,” Panthers manager Daniel Vander Valk said. “We had great pitching from a senior that came out today. We told him a week ago he was getting the ball, and he’s been looking forward to it all week. We put some runs on the board to keep us comfortable instead of having to struggle through a game. We’ve given up a lot of leads late in games, so putting up runs early gave us a chance to have some fun on Senior Day.”
The Panthers were set up well by a three-run first inning, a four-run fourth and a one-run fifth to give the home team a comfortable 8-1 lead entering the top of the sixth.
No. 26-ranked Bradshaw, looking to snap a two-game skid, was kept off-balance by Lopez, but the Bears’ bats woke up a little in the top of the sixth against Panthers relief pitcher Nate Flores.
Flores started the frame giving up a pair of singles to the first two batters he faced, then loading the bases after hitting the next batter. Despite loading the bags with zero outs, Flores made it out of the inning, allowing just one through as he registered two straight strikeouts and a popup.
“Nate did a great job battling right there and he did his job that inning. We tell him to throw strikes and that’s what he did,” Vander Valk said.
Senior Caden Fordyce closed the game for 4A Conference Coconino, making his first appearance in a game since a win over Desert Edge just over two weeks ago. Fordyce pitched a clean inning, retiring the side on groundout at first, a strikeout and a flyout to end the game.
“I’m super proud of Caden Frodyce, who hasn’t played in a couple games. And he did a great job with the stick, got a base hit and later he closed the game out,” Vander Valk said.
With three games left on the regular-season slate for the Panthers -- two against Flagstaff and a road game at Bradshaw Mountain -- each outing matters, with Coconino sitting just inside the play-in bubble at 22nd entering Saturday.
Vander Valk said he doesn’t want his team thinking about their ranking, but rather to just take it a game at a time.
“I think for us, man, it’s one game at a time,” Vander Valk said. “We gotta play one game at a time, we gotta work really hard to eliminate the thought of the playoff and not worry about our ranking. I think a lot of times late in the year teams think too much about that.”
Coconino will take on No. 20 Flagstaff Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Coconino High School in the first of two crosstown games next week.