by Tanner Puckett
The AZ Diamond Dawgs rode a stellar starting pitching performance and a seven-run inning to an 8-7 victory over the Chandler Stars (AZ) in Sunday’s 12u championship game at the Arizona Spring Championships.
The two teams, both from the East Valley area of metro Phoenix, have faced off several times over the years. On this occasion, the Diamond Dawgs (Queen Creek, AZ) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a triple by Cameron Mitchell and an RBI single by Nolan Agostini.
They lost that lead just once after a rough top of the fourth, loudly reclaiming it with seven runs in the bottom half of the inning. Diamond Dawgs starting pitcher Zach Bolles puzzled the Stars’ bats for most of the afternoon, striking out nine over 4 1/3 innings. He was charged with four earned runs on four hits, one walk and a hit-by-pitch.
“He’s our big horse,” Diamond Dawgs head coach Jason Cronin said.
Asked if he took any special preparations for the game, the only one was rest.
“I was actually sick this morning,” Bolles said. “So the first two games I sat on the bench and just hit, just to get ready for this game.”
Eli Cramer-Cronin’s relief of Bolles in the fifth inning was the final pitching change made by the Diamond Dawgs. He pitched out of trouble twice, allowing an inherited runner to score in the fifth before getting the last out and stopping a sixth-inning rally after three runs scored to end the game.
“We go to Eli to finish things up,” coach Cronin said. “It got a little rough, but he handles that pressure. We’re gonna stay with him to the end.”
After falling behind 2-1 after a home run from the Stars’ Ryan Hardwood, the Diamond Dawgs focused in on striking quickly. Cronin told his team there was a lot of game left to be played. A seven-run fourth inning proved to be enough to put the game out of reach.
“We got a couple of key hits and then it was just enough to hang on,” Cronin said. “Because we knew they were going to keep coming. We’ve been playing these guys for a long time and that’s what they do.”
That fourth inning saw the Diamond Dawgs collect five hits and two walks to post the seven-spot, primarily on the back of a three-run home run by Cayden Hokanson and a grand slam from Marley Chancey.
The players echoed their coach in terms of approach. Hokanson’s homer came first on a 2-2 breaking ball and put the Diamond Dawgs back on top, 4-2.
“His curveball was good so I was expecting him to throw it to me, and he kind of just hung it,” Hokanson said.
Chancey’s grand slam was the hit that put the game out of reach.
“I was just looking for my pitch to drive,” Chancey said. “Needed those runs.”
The win was an important one for the Dawgs, both in the context of the 12u championship and in the bigger series with the Stars. Even though they’re close in proximity and go toe-to-toe often, there’s a lot of respect between the two teams.
Cameron Mitchell, who went 3-for-3 for the Dawgs with a triple, stolen base and two runs, said the competition is a fun one.
“It’s always been close games and it’s always been a great experience playing baseball with them.”