James Harrington tried in the sixth inning to make Mesquite a winner over Gilbert High with a tie-breaking sacrifice fly. Harrington went the distance on the mound (seven inning), but ended up leaving his pitching duties with a 3-3 tie so earning the decision and game-winning hit were stricken.
But the senior pitcher-outfielder, headed for the the University of New Mexico this fall, saw his persistence pay off a bit later. Harrington lined the game-winning hit down the third-base line with no outs in the bottom of the ninth to give the host Wildcats a 4-3 win over Gilbert in a the Division I regular-season baseball finale for both teams.
Mesquite (18-10 overall, 12-6 power-ranking games) waits until Thursday afternoon to find out if it has hung on to at least a top-eight finish and a first-round bye in the D-I state tournament that opens on Saturday for all the non-bye schools. Mesquite was at No. 8 prior to playing Gilbert.
While Mesquite knows for sure it has baseball left to play and perhaps a bye to boot, Gilbert (15-13, 9-9) must wait to see if it still rests in the top 24 to qualify for state. Gilbert began Tuesday at No. 21. Many teams finished the regular season Tuesday, but there are still plenty that conclude play Wednesday. The final rankings will be released Thursday afternoon between 2:30 and 3 on an AIA365.com internet broadcast.
Helping Mesquite win the nail-biter with its sister school were Jacob Gonzalez, who stole two bases and scored the winning run. Gonzalez spent much of the season as a courtesy runner for pitchers or catchers.Gonzalez ran for catcher Tyler Pollett in the ninth after Pollett singled off Gilbert reliever Chase Merriman. Harrington's winner followed.
Following Harrington on the mound was senior right-hander George Valenzuela, who tossed two scoreless innings and picked up the win. Valenzuela gave up three hits and fanned two. Mesquite's defense also was outstanding with outfielder Cole Valletta making two fine catches — one in right and left field. Centerfielder Nick Daley threw out what could have been the go-ahead run in the seventh on a perfect throw home. Shortstop Alex Murrieta chipped in with a handful of nice plays early in the game.
Gilbert played like a team desperate to win and hung in all afternoon. The Tigers grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first on Chris Smith's RBI single, battled back from a 2-1 deficit to tie in the sixth on Zack Meyer's sacrifice fly and had to ut three hits together in the top of the seventh to tie and force extra innings. Kevin Gonzalez's single tied the game at 3 in the seventh.
Gilbert pushed Mesquite to extra innings despite issuing six walks and hitting five batters. The Tigers outhit Mesquite, 10-6. They threatened in the eighth and ninth innings, but like Mesquite (11 runners left on) failed to deliver enought hits with runners on base leaving 10.