Originally Published: May 11, 2018 10:46 p.m.
GOODYEAR – Will the Bagdad baseball team’s state-title drought be broken? Well, this just might be the Sultans’ year.
Top-seeded Bagdad moved closer to a championship after shutting out No. 5 Williams, 13-0, in a run-ruled five innings in the 1A state semifinals Friday night at Goodyear Baseball Complex, qualifying the Sultans for their 10th state championship game all-time.
Bagdad, which outscored its first three opponents of this tournament by a combined 30-0, will face No. 6 Superior for the crown on Monday, May 14. Defending 1A state champion Superior knocked out No. 2 Ray, 3-1, in 10 innings in the other semifinal Friday.
“The biggest thing for us is they’ve been going to work every day, and that’s what’s gotten us to where we are right now,” Sultans coach Brent Callen said of his 2018 squad.
Since 1963, the Sultans have finished as the state runners-up eight times. Bagdad captured its lone state championship 54 years ago, in 1964, with a 7-4 victory over Benson.
On Friday, Bagdad starting pitcher Israel Loveall picked up the win, allowing one hit while fanning seven and walking two in 3-2/3 frames. Tony Ventura went the final 1-1/3 innings, surrendering no hits and striking out three, to finish off Williams. Callen said Loveall, his team MVP, will start in Monday’s title game with Ventura as his back-up.
“We kept his pitch count down,” Callen added about Loveall.
At the dish, Loveall was 2 for 3 with four runs scored and an RBI. Ventura went 1 for 2 with two RBIs and two walks. Kaylab Owings (1 for 2, two RBIs) and Damian Tham (2 for 2).
Bagdad baseball has had a successful, albeit gut-wrenching, time in the postseason over the past five-plus decades.
Most recently, in 2016, Bagdad was the Division IV runner-up to champion Pima. In 2009, the Sultans were the 1A runners-up to Tanque Verde. First-year Bagdad softball coach Dalton Mills, who will eventually return to coach the baseball team, coached the 2016 and 2009 squads. Mills, whose softball Sultans took 1A state runner-up honors May 7 to champion Superior, was in the stands Friday night.
Going back further in time, in 2007, Bagdad finished as the 1A runner-up to Superior. Ten years earlier, in 1997, Bagdad was runner-up to 1A stalwart St. David. In 1991 and 1992, the Sultans garnered the runner-up trophy in back-to-back seasons, as St. David and Mogollon, respectively, drove home with the title.
In the 2A ranks, Bagdad was also second place in 1963 and 1988. After all these years, the 1964 Sultans can still stake their claim as the only Bagdad baseball team to win state.
Perhaps that drought will end Monday.
Bagdad battles Superior for the 1A state title at 4 p.m. Monday, May 14, at Tempe Diablo Stadium, 2200 W. Alameda Drive.
Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.