The April 11 showdown between the Mingus Union and Flagstaff baseball teams became much more interesting on the morning of April 2 when the AIA released divisional rankings and perched at the top of Division-II are the Marauders with the Eagles nipping at their heels at No. 2.
Following their 7-5 win over Winslow High School, the Marauders moved into first and are a perfect 7-0 in power point games.
While their record is perfect in games that count, the Marauders did suffer their first setbacks of the season the previous week. Traveling to Greenway High School for the Greenway Festival, it took two teams from Colorado to hand head coach Bob Young and his team their first losses of the season.
"I feel we played good [at the tournament]," said pitcer Marshall Shill. "The pitchers that we faced, some of them are going to college, so we just need to battle and execute defensively because some of those games that we lost, it was our defense."
Over the past seven games, the Marauders are 5-2. The losses are to Evergreen (Evergreen, Colo.) and Chatfield (Littleton, Colo.) High Schools. Both school sport pitchers that are going to D-I schools to pitch in college, but there was only one game where the Marauders could not get their offense going.
Against Chatfield (No. 15 team in Colorado) Mingus Union was shutout 9-0. They could only manage five hits and committed a lone error. Their other loss was much closer, a 7-6 loss to Evergreen. Mingus only managed five hits, but a six run sixth inning knotted the game at six. Evergreen was able to bring a run in during its at bat, breaking the tie and giving them the go-ahead run.
Other highlights from the Greenway Festival included beating the No. 21 team in Colorado, Douglas County (Castle Rock, Colo.) 6-5 and blowing three teams out of the water with scores of 23-8, 14-4 and 21-1.
"We really only played poorly one game, we lost to a really good team 9-0 and I thought we never really battled them," Young said. "Our other loss, we were down 6-0, tied it up in the sixth and lost by one, that was a good battle. The last game that we played, against Douglas County, they were a good team (they had a big lefty sign with Nebraska) and we beat them 6-5. That was by far our best game of the tournament. We saw some good things, saw some good pitching and we definitely got better last week, that's always our goal."
Mingus returned home and stayed undefeated against Arizona teams when Winslow did their best to overcome the Marauders, but could not and lost 7-5. The Bulldogs took advantage of a cold Mingus offense late in the game and two errors to cut a four run deficit to two, but the Marauders defense proved too much for another school.
"We didn't score anymore runs," Young said. "Offensively we kind of shut it down after the fourth. We didn't do a very good job; we were swinging at bad pitches and stuff. I just thought mentally we weren't really into it ... we just weren't as mentally engaged as we needed to be."
Shill took care of the mound for Mingus, pitching the entire game with a single earned run on seven hits and six strikeouts. The defense backing him up was nearly perfect, but the few errors made cost the Marauders four runs.
"Obviously you're always worried, but I just did my job to throw strikes and have them hit ground balls and allow my defense to work," Shill said.
Young added that Shill "pitched a great game."
"He did great pitching, he pitched a great game," Young said. "He was under control. The five runs that they got a couple of them were errors, a couple were squib hits, but he did a great job, he dominated the game."
At the plate, Shill was perfect; going 1-for-1, and Jordan Upham, Orlando Machado, Tom McCarty and Taylor Mathe all tallied multiple hits, including a triple from Machado.
In the end the win proved enough to move Mingus ahead of Flagstaff for the No. 1 spot in D-III. Much like the Marauders, the Eagles have two losses overall, in tournaments to Salpointe Catholic and Canyon Del Oro. Mingus has two games (a double header against Blue Ridge at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.) and Flag has two games until the April 11 showdown at 3:45 p.m. at Mingus. Both teams should already be in the conversation for teams to win the state championship, but the winner will strengthen their claim to it and the section title after the game.