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Chino Valley tops Kingman for 5th straight win
Prep Baseball

Chino Valley’s Kaleb Chacon singles as the Cougars host the Kingman Bulldogs on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in Chino Valley. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Chino Valley’s Kaleb Chacon singles as the Cougars host the Kingman Bulldogs on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in Chino Valley. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

CHINO VALLEY — At this stage of the season, seeding into the 3A state tournament becomes a priority for teams such as Chino Valley’s baseball squad, which would, at the least, prefer to host a state play-in tournament game on Friday, April 27.

In its 3A West region home finale on Senior Day Tuesday afternoon at Nesbitt-Pratt Field, the 3A No. 10-ranked Cougars inched a step closer to the playoffs, beating Kingman, 8-3, for their fifth straight win.

Chino Valley improved to 12-3 overall in power-point games and 7-1 in region to remain in second place behind frontrunner Northwest Christian. Kingman dipped to 6-9, 3-5.

Cougars coach Mark Middleton said his team has played well, but still not its best.

“We’ve got more in the tank,” he added. “There was a stretch where we were playing really good baseball. The confidence level is real high.”

Chino Valley starting pitcher Tyler Hixon picked up the win on Tuesday, allowing three runs on six hits, striking out 10 and walking three in six innings of work. He pitched to one batter in the seventh, issuing a walk to Coleton Padilla on four pitches before exiting. He retired the side in the fourth and the sixth innings.

“There was a lot of emotions in this game, especially since this could be my last one here [at home],” said Hixon, one of seven seniors who were honored in a short pregame ceremony near home plate. “But I just kept my head straight and I came back [after a slightly shaky start].”

Sophomore Thomas Bartels, making his first appearance in a relief role, faced four batters, forcing two pop-outs and a groundout, and walking one in the seventh inning.

Hixon also led the hosts at the dish, going 2 for 3 with a two-run triple and a two-run single. Colton Sandberg (2 for 3, triple, RBI single), Kaleb Chacon (2 for 3, double, two runs scored, RBI), Brian Ellis (double) and Bartels (double) also stood out.

“We’re starting to play good, and play well with each other, but I still think we can do better,” Chacon said. “All the way up and down the lineup, we can get on base and score.”

Added Ellis, “We have definitely melded well together in the past couple games. At the beginning we had a winning streak, too [five straight, from March 20-March 29]. But after facing adversity of losing a couple times, it brought us better together. I can’t wait for [the postseason]. It’s going to be a fun time. We’re going to do great.”

Chino Valley scored three runs in the first inning, two runs in the second, one in the third and two in the sixth in besting the Bulldogs and sweeping the season series, 2-0. Kingman, which plated a run apiece in the third, fifth and seventh innings, managed only one extra-base hit, Rilee Araya’s RBI double in the fifth. Araya led the Bulldogs at the dish, going 2 for 4 with two RBIs.

Kingman starting pitcher Luke Ness was pulled after the first inning, despite pitching to three batters in the second frame. Ness gave up five runs (four earned) on five hits, walking one, before giving way to lefty Dante Bravo, who finished the game. Bravo surrendered three runs on five hits, striking out four and walking three.

The Cougars, who had won three of their past four games by one run heading into the week, likely won’t earn an automatic berth to state. Only the Top 8-ranked teams in the power-point standings at the end of the regular season automatically advance. Teams ranked Nos. 9 through 24 will be paired for one-game play-ins, with the eight winners of those contests moving on to the 16-team, single-elimination state tournament May 4 and 5, 12 and 14, at Surprise Baseball Complex.

The state playoff field consists of 12 automatic bids and four at-large qualifiers based on ranking. The Top 2 teams in each of 3A’s six regions earn no worse than a berth into the play-in round.

UP NEXT

Chino Valley ends the 2018 regular season with two region contests, both on the road. First up, the Cougars visit West region leader and 3A No. 3 Northwest Christian (15-1 overall in power-point games, 8-0 region) at 3:45 p.m. Friday, April 20, in Phoenix. In their first meeting April 3, in Chino Valley, Northwest Christian won, 5-3.

The Cougars, defending West region champions, haven’t been mathematically eliminated from winning the region again. However, they must win Friday and in their regular-season finale at Wickenburg on Monday, April 23 – and hope Northwest Christian loses its finale at Odyssey Institute at 6 p.m. on the 23rd.

“I think Northwest Christian’s going down,” Hixon said. “I think we’re going to beat them, we’re not going to have to play the play-in game and they are. We have the best team I’ve ever been on.”

Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at dcook@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.

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