Joey Curletta stepped out of the batter’s box and shook his head for what seems like the 1,000th time this season.
The Mountain Pointe senior cleared his mind, stepped back in and took ball four for an extra-inning, bases loaded walk-off walk as the Pride defeated No. 18 Mesa Mountain View 3-2 in eight innings in the first round of the Division I state tournament.
The Arizona recruit has battled himself all year after struggling at the plate and to make matters worse, Mountain View (19-10) intentionally walked Scott Kingery to load the bases to get to Curletta.
Mountain View reliever Landon Russo threw two balls, and came high with another fastball that Curletta waved underneath. After collecting himself, Curletta took two more balls to force in the winning run and helped No. 15 Mountain Pointe (18-10) advance to Tuesday’s second round game at No. 2 Chaparral.
“I was more mad at myself because (the pitch) was at my neck and I had to check myself and be patient,” Curletta said. “I understood (the intentional walk was the right call in the situation.) But I also know I am having a rough year and they wanted to take advantage of that. I was confident that all I had to do was put the ball in the outfield and he didn’t throw me strike so I did what I needed to do to get the run in.”
The inning got started on a perfect bunt by senior Michael Wagner, who ended up on second when catcher Zack Hyzdu’s throw sailed down the right-field line. Sam Kingery sacrifice bunted with two strikes and beat the throw at first by Russo.
Mountain View coach Mike Thiel called a meeting on the mound and decided to intentionally walk Scott Kingery to get to Curletta, who hit 21 home runs last year, but has just four this season.
“It was what the situation called for,” Thiel said. “We had to get something popped up off the handle in the infield or something like that. I thought it was strike two… but that wasn’t the call.”
It looked as if Mountain Pointe had it won in regulation as it had the Toros down to its final out before Mountain View leadoff hitter Sterling Smith went deep to left-center field off Curletta to tie it at 2-2.
“That’s fun right there,” Thiel said. “That’s good playoff baseball. He had a great at-bat and gave us a chance.”
The Pride took a 2-1 lead in the in the fourth inning when they strung together three straight hits off Arizona State recruit Willie Ethington, who allowed didn’t allow a hit in any of his six other innings and had five strikeouts and no walks.
With one out, Curletta doubled and went to third on Brantley Bell’s single. Sophomore left fielder Ernie de la Trinidad doubled to left field, just out of the reach of Shane Martin to plate both runs.
“I was just looking for a fastball and they were going away with it,” said the left-handed swinging Trinidad. “I put a good swing on it and (Martin) couldn’t get to it.”
Buck said his young outfielder has continued to mature throughout the season.
“That guy has been on fire,” Buck said. “That kid has an approach and he sticks with it. He is never out of control and he adjusts pitch by pitch.”
The Toros had an opportunity to set the tone of the game in the first when they loaded the bases with three straight singles to start the game, but Mountain Pointe starter Kyle Detwiler (5 innings, 6 hits, 1 walked, 4 strikeouts) did a great job of minimizing the damage with a double play that scored a run and closed the inning with a ground out.
The game was well played and just as easily could have been a state semifinal game instead of a single-elimination emotional first-rounder.
“That’s playoff baseball,” Buck said. “Unfortunately, one of us had to go home. In my mind (Mountain View) is one of the best teams in the state and it was a tough draw. It gets us prepared and ready to go for our next opponent.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Jskoda@ahwatukee. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.