Technically, the Beatty High School baseball team didn’t know going into Friday’s doubleheader at Round Mountain that they would be in the Class 1A Southern Regional Tournament.
But as a practical matter, the Hornets were in. At 4-2 in the league, they were ahead of third-place Spring Mountain by a game. But the Golden Eagles had to face league-leading Tonopah while the Hornets would battle the last-place Knights.
But just in case something strange happened in Tonopah, the Hornets took care of business, sweeping the Knights by scores of 18-6 and 18-12.
But if the victories didn’t mean all that much, the way they won the second game was certainly noteworthy. Beatty broke out of the gate quickly against Round Mountain starter Koleby Harmon, taking a 9-2 lead midway through the second. But the Knights fought back, scoring 3 runs in the second, 1 in the third, and 3 in the fifth to pull even.
With the game meaning nothing, the regular season just a couple of innings from ending, nobody would have been shocked if the Hornets wandered aimlessly through the rest of the game. Instead, they put together a huge rally, sending 12 batters to the plate in the sixth inning, scoring 9 runs on 8 hits, highlighted by a 2-run double by Fabian Perez and an inside-the-park grand slam from Yadir Rodriguez that capped the big inning.
“Yadir Rodriguez couldn’t do track because of a motorcycle accident early in the year, but he has a good arm,” Beatty coach Leo Verzilli said. “So I made him a pitcher, and he worked hard to get better. He hits well, he’s still blazing quick which helps when he’s on base and plays outfield, and he pitches. He stepped in and helped us out a lot.”
In just five games, Rodriguez has collected 8 hits with 10 RBIs and scored 7 runs. It adds up to a .533 batting average, a .588 on-base percentage, and a .933 slugging percentage. In the second game at Round Mountain, he went 3-for-4 with that grand slam, a double and 6 RBIs, all in a game about which Verzilli was not all that concerned.
“I wanted to get all our pitchers some work and still try and win the games,” Beatty coach Leo Verzilli said. “After the first win I didn’t really care about second win, just wanted to get all the kids some playing time. Best thing to come out of those games was the bottom of our lineup came alive and got us some runs finally.”
That sent the Hornets (8-8, 6-2 1A Central) into the postseason on a winning note, but Verzilli is nothing if not a realist. He knows the sledding will be tough for his Hornets — and the league champion Muckers, for that matter — when they head to Indian Springs and deal with 1A South champion Pahranagat Valley and the runner-up host school. The double-elimination region tournament opens today, with Beatty taking on Pahranagat Valley at 3 p.m. and Tonopah facing Indian Springs at 5:30 p.m.
As in any tournament, pitching will be critical, and that could be an issue. The Hornets have a team earned-run average of 10.46 and have issued 111 walks to 97 strikeouts.
”Our pitching in the playoffs can never hold up, not enough gas or experience,” Verzilli said. “Also, can our kids hit their pitchers? Alamo and Indian Springs are just on another level than the rest of us in baseball. Getting to postseason is an accomplishment in itself, and these kids seem to do it every season in all sports. Placing in the top three is a realistic goal for us.”
That would mean beating out Tonopah, a team the Hornets could face Friday in either the winners bracket championship or an elimination game. The Muckers have had the Hornets’ number this season, winning three games on the field and a fourth by forfeit.
For that to change, Beatty’s top players will have to perform at their peak. That starts with senior Jacob Henry and juniors Austin McKenzie and Perez.
”Jacob Henry, I could talk all day about this kid,” Verzilli said. “He’s a four-year player who stepped up early in his high school career to be starter. He’s a great first baseman who saves two or three outs a game. He’s a great hitter, a smart base runner and a great leader, and I hope to get him on the all-conference team.”
Henry sports a .565 batting average, which is second on the team to McKenzie’s .617, with 5 doubles, 5 triples, 18 RBIs and 26 runs. He’s also second to McKenzie in on-base percentage (.673) and third on the Hornets in slugging (.891).
McKenzie leads the Hornets in hits (29) and RBIs (30), while also hitting 5 doubles, 4 triples and 2 home runs. Perez, Beatty’s leadoff hitter, has drawn a team-leading 16 walks and scored a team-leading 33 runs while batting .471 with 6 doubles, also tops on the team, and 5 triples. He also leads the team with 21 stolen bases on 24 attempts.
The only seniors on the roster are Henry, Rodriguez, and Geo Maldonado, the latter in his first year on the baseball team for the first time.
“He came out this year, worked on pitching and helped us out a lot,” Verzilli said. “He took to batting real well and would have been a great ball player if he was there four years. He’s also a great outfielder who judges a ball better than anyone else.”
Beatty is not a perennial power in baseball; this will be the Hornets’ second postseason appearance since 2011. Their last winning record came in 2011, which also was their last region championship. But this year they beat the teams they were supposed to beat, and their reward is the chance to continue their season today against the Panthers.
“It’s been a fun year,” Verzilli said. “The kids improved every week, and most of the team will be back next year.”
And with the freshly dedicated Keith Koerner Memorial Field at their disposal, the future looks bright for Beatty baseball.
“Playing on this new field is a dream, too,” Verzilli said.