Pharrell Williams’ red-hot pop song “Happy’’ blared from the speakers at Scottsdale Chaparral’s baseball field on Saturday, and the players were all smiles.
You would be smiling, too, if you had just rallied for a 6-5 walk-off victory (over Tempe Corona del Sol) with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, all of it with two outs.
Chaparral (13-1) was in a world of trouble going into the bottom of the sixth inning. Right-hander Eric Schwalbe, the starter for Corona del Sol (9-6), was keeping the Firebirds’ bats silent for the most part.
Chaparral trailed 5-1 but started to awaken. Marshall Forest hit a leadoff home run and the Firebirds pulled to within 5-4 with the help of a pair of outfield errors by the Aztecs. Chaparral stranded the tying run at third and some had to wonder if the team would get another chance.
That feeling probably intensified when the Corona del Sol relief pitcher got the first two outs in the seventh with little difficulty.
With two outs, Forest drew a four-pitch walk and was replaced at first by courtesy runner John Seely. Andrew Shaps then beat out a roller to first base. The first baseman and pitcher did their best to get the out with the toss to the bag, but did not have enough time.
That brought Collin Gabel to the plate. The senior infielder is perhaps the Firebirds’ most intense player.
The right-handed-hitting Gabel worked the count to 3-1 before the next pitch caught the outside edge of the plate.
It was do-or-die time.
Chaparral coach Sam Messina, coaching third, sent the runners off from second and first. Gabel punched the outside pitch for a hit to right-center. Messina had Seely going around third all the way, and when he saw that the outfielder juggled the ball for a split second, waved Shaps home, and Shaps slid across the plate in a cloud of dust to win it.
“Never count Chaparral out,’’ was what several Firebirds were saying afterward.
“Their starting pitcher (Schwalbe) was absolutely fantastic,’’ Messina said. “But you also have to give our guys a lot of credit for being able to come back.’’
Corona del Sol pitchers were trying to work Chaparral hitters away most of the day, Messina said, and he felt the Aztecs would try it again with Gabel, especially with a full count.
Messina said he started the runners, figuring at least Seely could score on a hit for the tie. The light of good fortune shined on Chaparral for the winning run.
The coach also gave credit to relief pitcher Gabe Hamilton, who pitched the final 3 2/3 innings and did not give up a hit or a run, striking out four.