By GANNON HANEVOLD
Moapa Valley Progress
On an afternoon where blustering winds brought bullets of dirt and sand onto the baseball diamond, and rain clouds loomed overhead, the top-seeded Moapa Valley High School baseball team opened what will certainly be a postseason to remember. On Tuesday, May 9, the Pirates began the week with a home game against Sunrise Mountain. By the end of the week, the team had played five games and sealed a spot to compete in the State Championship tournament this weekend.
It has been five years since the Pirates last made it to the state tournament, and four years since the Moapa Valley baseball program has even won a playoff game. But this year has been special. And that was especially on Tuesday as the Pirates opened up the postseason.
Their first game came at home against the Miners of Sunrise Mountain. In just the first inning, with runners on the corners, a well thought out play by Daxton Longman and Anthony Cornwall had Cornwall steal home and put the first run on the board. In the fourth, with the Pirates leading 4-0, a Chase Guesman RBI triple brought Luke Bennett home for another run.
The Pirates went on to roll through the Miners for their first playoff win in the high school careers of each player on the team. Coby Longman went three for three at the plate with a pair of RBIs and also threw three strikeouts in two innings pitched for Moapa Valley.
A day later, the Pirates hosted their second playoff game, this time against the Mojave Rattlers. After the Rattlers scored the first run of the game in the top of the first inning, Anthony Cornwall stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. While a day earlier, Cornwall put the first run on the board, this time he did so in a more literal fashion. Cornwall took a powerful swing and sent the ball deep into left field and into the visitor’s side of the scoreboard the outfield for a home run.
Despite the highlight reel play, the Pirates still couldn’t pull away from the second-seeded Rattlers. In the fifth inning, the game was knotted at 3-3 when Moapa Valley found their late game groove that they have discovered so many times this season.
Without even making contact with the ball, Cornwall had set the tone for the inning. Mojave elected to intentionally walk the Pirates catcher as the sounds of the Moapa crowd following his earlier home run echoed in their minds.
The Pirates rattled off nine consecutive ensuing runs, thanks to a two-RBI double by Dayton Wolfley as well as a hard hit to the pitcher by Chase Hadley. Moapa Valley would go on to win by a score of 12-4 and set up their fourth date this season with the Boulder City Eagles.
With hundreds of fans in attendance, the Pirates took on the defending state champion Eagles with a ticket to the state tournament on the line. Using the same play with runners on corners that had scored the first run against Sunrise Mountain, Daxton Longman distracted the Eagles defense as he hovered between first and second while Cornwall dashed from third base to home.
The Pirates would lead 2-1 in the third when Boulder City starting pitcher DJ Reese hit a shot into right field that rolled past Tyler Peterson for two runs.
Now trailing 3-2, the Pirates needed a spark, and they certainly found it. Peterson avenged his error in the outfield with a single to open up the fourth inning.
Following his example would be the next five Moapa Valley hitters. One hit after another came about and all of a sudden the Pirates had turned the bases into a Merry-Go-Round of base runners. By the end of the inning, the Pirates led 6-3.
They would hold onto their lead, with help coming from Dayton Wolfley, who made a pair of immaculate diving catches in center field. Ultimately, Moapa would win 6-4 and claim a spot in the state tournament for the first time in five seasons.
“I thought it was really special, especially for our seniors,” said Pirates Head Coach Ed McCann. “Our seniors have never won a playoff game, let alone go to state, so that was really big and everyone contributed.”
McCann went on to praise starting pitcher Luke Bennett for his performance, adding, “Luke was the man. He was special. That’s all I can say. He brought his A-game.”
McCann said he knew he would need pitchers come playoff time, so he had prepared Bennett for his upcoming playoff start in a JV game against the Eagles as well as the game against Faith Lutheran a week earlier.
With their spot in the state tournament already guaranteed, the Pirates took on the Eagles once more on Saturday with a regional championship now the incentive.
The Pirates felt comfortable in the fourth inning, as they held onto a 5-0 lead. But just when things seemed like they’d fall in Moapa’s favor, Boulder City started to rally back, scoring six runs in the fifth inning alone.
The Eagles would hold onto their lead in the sixth and seventh innings and force a winner-take all regional championship game after handing the Pirates their first playoff loss.
“Boulder City, for the first time in a long time, capitalized on our mistakes,” Coach McCann said after this game. “We didn’t respond in the end like we normally have and just fell a little flat.”
In the final game of the postseason, with a top seed in the state tournament as the prize of the afternoon, the Eagles and Pirates met for the sixth time this year.
Boulder City rode their momentum from the previous win and jumped out to a 5-2 lead at the end of the first inning. But the Pirates fought back to tie the game up by the fourth inning.
With this being the fifth game of the week for Moapa Valley, they were simply low on pitchers, and it showed down the stretch. The Pirates threw two freshmen, Slade Graham and Kashten Frei, on the mound as well as Tyler Peterson. McCann praised all three for their performances. But in the end, it would be the Eagles who out-fought Moapa and held on for a 10-7 win. Despite being defeated by Moapa Valley three times this season, Boulder City won when it counted and claimed the Southern Region Championship trophy.
“Our guys have been grinding it out all season long,” McCann said of the tough losses on Saturda. “At the end of the day, we had punched our ticket, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a one seed or a two seed. We’re going to see them again.”
After what has been a special year for the Pirate baseball program, they earned a spot as the second team from the South in the state tournament. The team will take on Spring Creek at Faith Lutheran High School on Thursday at 4:00. Moapa Valley has come this far in this impressive season, and hope to finish the deal this weekend in what will be a thrilling state tournament