Nice little stroll

Desert Vista's Michael Popeck rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run to pull the Thunder within 10-9 in a 12-10 playoff win.

By Jason P. Skoda, AFN

At the time it was hard to imagine anyone at Opus Field on Saturday being more stunned then Austin “Crash” Hicks.

The Desert Vista senior right fielder ran full force into the fence, luckily missing one of the poles that are spaced about every four feet, while tracking a hard-hit double in the third. He crumpled to the ground as the Brophy base runners circled the bases.

Yet, about two hours and eight innings later, the Broncos were the ones dazed, in large because of a perfectly executed hit and run by Hicks as No. 22 Thunder erased a nine-run deficit to beat No. 11 Brophy 12-10 in 11 innings.

The game-winning rally was finished off by an opposite-field double by AJ Valencia in the first round of the Division I state tournament.

“I can’t really comprehend what happened right now,” Hicks said after Thunder came back from a 10-1 deficit. “There was some redemption there. Hopefully, it will all come back to me.”

And when it does it may not still be believable.

Hicks’ entanglement with the fence left him with some scratches on his face and the Thunder trailing 4-1 after three innings, that was exasperated when the very next hit was at Hicks. He was still woozy, and understandably tenatitive, before dropping it to score a run.

The Broncos (19-10) appeared to put it away in the fourth with a six-run inning that included a two-run shot by Ryan Grotjohn but the inning ended when the Thunder executed a great relay throw to cut a runner down at the plate.

If that run scores it was enough to have the 10-run rule enforced in the fifth if the Thunder (19-10) didn’t score.

No worries there as Colby Woodmansee hit a two-run shot, but the damage really didn’t come until the sixth when Tyler Viza and Michael Popeck both connected for three-run home runs off Brophy starter Steve Olkesak and Ahwatukee resident Garrett Rupp, respectively.

Then with Michael Westra on the mound, the Thunder tied it in the seventh with a RBI single by Valencia, who was the emotional leader throughout the comeback.

“We had come back so far and weren’t going let it end there,” said Valencia, who scored Aaron Modi after the later reached when he got hit by an 0-2 pitch. “We never quit at Desert Vista and that shows why you keep playing hard until the last out is recorded.”

The bullpens took over for awhile as the Thunder threw seven straight shutout innings in relief of starter Sean McGuire as Diego Leal, Kyle Gibbs and Viza, who went the final five innings, to keep Brophy from adding on, while Westra tossed three scoreless innings before giving it up in the 11th inning.

“I’ve played against Stan for a very long time and Desert Vista never gives in,” Brophy coach Tom Succow said. “Here I am thinking if we got the run (that was thrown out at the plate) we are three outs from closing it out, but I never felt comfortable knowing what their program is about.

“We weren’t able to add on and that was the difference. If we got a run here or there maybe that’s the difference, but we didn’t. I feel for our players. We started the year 2-6 and had a good season, but this is going to stay with you for awhile.”

The winning run rally started with one out as Modi singled and moved to third on the hit-and-run as Hicks shot the ball through the hole left at second base. After Viza was intentionally walked to load the bases, Valencia came through once again with a two-run double over the left fielder’s head to move the Thunder into Tuesday's matchup with No. 6 Sandra Day O'Connor.

“We talked to the kids early in the season about mental toughness and how we had to improve on that,” Thunder coach Stan Luketich said. “Through the year we got better but still weren’t there. When we lost some games at the end of the year I wasn’t sure we had it, but then we come back from 10-1 there is no question.

“High school kids don’t do that. They worked every at-bat, made all the plays and didn’t something special. Those things happen when you are mentally tough. It was unbelievable.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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