FARMINGTON — Naa'taanii has made all the right moves during the Connie Mack City Tournament and now stands one win away from the ultimate prize.
After defeating 4-Corners 5-1 behind Marvin Ortiz's complete game, 12 strikeout performance Saturday night at Ricketts Park, Naa'taanii needs just one win against rival Strike Zone Baseball to become the host team of the 2013 Connie Mack World Series.
"I remember a few years back we were three outs away from this, and we had a drop in center field. You are never close, and you can never start smelling it until it is there," said Naa'taanii head coach Tim Campos of his team's proximity to reaching the world series for the first time in the program's 14-year history. "We don't take anything for granted. This prize is very valuable and very important. We respect that."
Naa'taanii was guaranteed to play Sunday after defeating Strike Zone 5-0 earlier on Saturday in a make up game from Friday night, but defeating 4-Corners guaranteed Naa'taanii would have to be beat twice on Sunday to lose the championship.
Naa'taanii still made easy work of 4-Corners as Ortiz dominated the game. He allowed nine hits but didn't give up an earned run as fielding errors in the top of the seventh inning accounted for 4-Corners' lone run.
"When you have a team so hot with the stick, you have a lot of confidence out there," Ortiz said. "You don't have to worry about being perfect with the pitches. I was confident with all my pitches, and I was throwing them for strikes and getting ahead with them. The original plan was to start Tyson Curley tonight and let me finish the game, but the plan changed to keep him fresh and I felt good being able to complete the game."
Naa'taanii scored early as Nick DeArmond came up with a single in the first inning to score Roman Gonsalez and Zach Hinojos.
An inning later, Randy LePlatt drove in Tyson Curley with a double after Curley reached on one of just two 4-Corners errors in the game.
Naa'taanii tacked on two more runs in the fifth as DeArmond drove in Gonsalez on a ground ball out and Terrance Barela came up with an RBI-sacrifice fly that scored Hinojos.
"It feels great to get the wins. Our coaches have been going at this for over 10 years. We want to get them to the world series," Hinojos said.
Naa'taanii hasn't gotten to this point without controversy. Before Saturday night's game, the Farmington Amateur Baseball Congress called into question the eligibility of some of Naa'taanii's players. All players are required to play one league game before July 1 and three games before the city tournament to be eligible. After rechecking scorebooks, all of Naa'taanii's players were eventually deemed legal.
"It is always difficult when you deal with drama that takes away from the on-field activities. Our program is the longest standing program in the league, and we will be around another 10 years longer. We will continue to treasure this opportunity," Campos said. "We are here to represent the Four Corners. I am from Gallup, Dineh Benally is from Shiprock. Wes LePlatt is from Aztec. Our coaches and our players want to come in and represent this area well. ... I hope we can represent it with class and poise and with integrity. The guys may get mouthy and chirp back and forth between teams, but we use that as times to teach humility, and we will continue to do so."
For 4-Corners, the loss was tough to take, but the first-year program was satisfied with its success and plans to come back stronger in 2014.
"Any time you take a bunch of high school kids come who are cast offs from other schools or nobody wanted them and you can put them together and finish in the top-four when you don't bring in any arms and you have no controversy over illegal players, it is kind of nice," said 4-Corners head coach Brett Alexander. "Our players are outstanding young men, and that is what I am most proud of."
John Livingston covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.