In the bottom of the third inning, Gila Ridge senior Gus Nubes hit what looked to be a casual single to right-center field.
But Nubes kept his motor running and stretched it into a leadoff double. Three batters later, he scored on a single by Hayato Johnson.
In the pressure-packed game at home against No. 9 Sunrise Mountain, it turned out to be the little things like Nubes' hustle that helped the No. 8 Hawks knock out the Mustangs 5-1 in the second round of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II State Tournament on a windy Tuesday afternoon.
Gila Ridge coach Greg Osowski said someone needed to spark the team and certainly felt the boost from Nubes, who knew he was heading to second before he touched first base.
“Coach always says to hit it the other way and if it's in the gap, make a hard turn and see if you can get to second,” said Nubes.
The win in what Osowski called probably the biggest game in school history advances the Hawks to the Round of 8 and they'll start the double elimination part of the tournament against No. 1 Seton Catholic at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Camelback Ranch Stadium in Glendale.
It was a win the Hawks felt many around the state didn't think they could get.
“The whole team, this morning, we looked on AIA and saw that Sunrise Mountain was predicted to win because of their stats,” Johnson said. “We all texted each other in a group message and said, ‘Hey, we're going to go out and show them who's the top dogs and basically kick their butt.'”
The other big story from the Hawks' win over Sunrise Mountain came on the defensive side. While Gila Ridge was flawless in the field, the Mustangs made five errors — including three by freshman second baseman Michael Herrera — that gave the Hawks three unearned runs.
“That was a problem for us early in the year and we had corrected it in the last three or four weeks — we've been playing red-hot,” Sunrise Mountain coach Eric Gardner said. “Today, it came back and bit us.
“We have a freshman at second base and he's been doing great for us all year long and it got the best of him. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the drive down, maybe the pressure of it. Brick (Paskiewicz) hasn't had an error all year at short and he had that error in the first.”
“(Defense) has been our bread and butter,” Osowski said. “And we're proud of it. The first thing we talked about after the game was how many errors did we have today? Zero.”
The main benefactor of Gila Ridge's error-free defense was junior starting pitcher Victor Castro. With the Hawks leading 3-1 in the top of the sixth, the always-calm Castro got out of a jam with catcher Austin Browning gunning down Brody Gilgore trying to steal then striking out Seth Martinez to strand a runner on third — and walked back to the dugout showing no emotion.
“I feel the excitement inside but I don't want to show it,” Castro said. “I wanted to stay concentrated because I knew I still had to go out there in the seventh.”
Castro improved to 9-0 by throwing a complete game, allowing four hits and striking out six.
“Give Castro credit. He threw really, really well,” Gardner said. “He just did a good job of mixing us up, going in and out and mixing up speeds, to the point where we weren't sure and we never were making solid contact.”
Castro also had an RBI in the bottom of the fifth when he hit a slow dribbler down the third base line that scored Irving Lopez and pushed the Hawks' lead to 3-1.
The Hawks' other two runs came in the bottom of the sixth, when back-to-back errors by Herrera allowed Zach Taylor to score and Marco Jaime hit an RBI sacrifice fly to center.
Some of the Hawks admitted that the win was a little sweeter considering it came against a Phoenix-area team. The Hawks were seen as the underdogs around the state despite that they were the better seed and the game was at Gila Ridge.
“It always does,” Osowski said. “And it doesn't really mean anything because it's been going on for years since I've been in Yuma. They're not going to pick us. They don't watch us in fairness to them.
“The kids see stuff. They know. They know what's going on. They know they aren't getting much respect.”