Spanish Springs went into Saturday's championship undefeated in the tournament, meaning Bishop Manogue, with one loss already, had to beat the Cougars twice to capture the regional title. Manogue did give Spanish Springs all it could handle. The private Catholic school handed the SSHS nine a 20-10 shellacking to force an 'If Game.'
The 'If Game' was all Spanish Springs. The Sparks school wound up posting a 10-4 triumph and earning the North's lone bid into next week's 4A State Tournament, which will start Thursday at the Community College of Southern Nevada.
Jake Bray was the star of the Cougars' show in the second game Saturday. He led off the game with a solo home run and then turned in a complete-game victory on the mound.
"Momentum only lasts as long as the next starting pitcher," Manogue coach Charles Oppio said, alluding to Bray's heroics. "That's what the second game was about. Jake Bray stepped up. He has got two-plus great pitches and he put up zeroes through five."
Bray, who threw shutout baseball through the first five frames, scattered seven Manogue hits in a seven strikeout, four-walk outing.
"He threw his off-speed stuff for strikes. That's the key for any pitcher and then it makes your fastball look that much faster," Spanish Springs coach Ben Hofmann said. "I asked him before the game if he cold give us four and he said he'd go more than four. He did that."
The hard-throwing senior right-hander's performance was all the more impressive considering he had not made a start all year. Bray had handled the Cougars' closing chores and had not worked more than an inning at a time in any game this spring. He tossed 119 pitches in seven innings of work Saturday.
"I'd only thrown like eight innings all year, and those were in closing situations," Bray said. "I like pressure situations. They get you pumped up and get the adrenaline going. I told coach I'd go as long as I needed for us to get the win."
The Spanish Springs offense went right to work in the top of the first. After Bray started the tourney tilt with a round tripper, Tanner Oates walked. Kendall Murphy followed with a single and when his base hit was misplayed in the outfield, he raced to third while Oates scored. Malcolm Anderson grounded out and scored Murphy, forging the Cougars ahead 3-0 after the top of the first.
In the top of the fourth, Spanish Springs tacked on two more runs, to make it 5-0. Vinny Agliolo walked and came around to score after a Shane Lawson sacrifice bunt and double by Bray. Oates stepped up next and laced a double of his own to score Bray.
Manogue finally began to show some signs of offensive life in the bottom of the sixth. The Miners clustered together three hits, a walk and two passed balls to score three runs.
The Manogue rally trimmed the deficit to 5-3, but it was short-lived. Spanish Springs answered by scoring five runs in the top of the seventh to blow the game open.
Kendall Murphy walked and his pinch runner, Troy Weller, scored after a pair of stolen bases and an errant pickoff throw. Next, Anderson was hit by a pitch. His pinch runner, Cade Rogers, circled the sacks when Tim Epker doubled and went to third on an outfield error. Epker scored after getting in a pickle and Manogue threw the ball away.
The Cougars weren't done in the seventh. Kyle Clark walked and Shane Lawson drilled a two-run dinger to conclude the Cougars' scoring parade.
"We've been preaching all year that you have to add on," Hofmann said. "We were able to do that and maintain a lead. They were able to get three and then we answered in the seventh. That was big."
Manogue did score a run in the bottom of the seventh but it proved too little, too late.
The win gave Spanish Springs its second regional title in the 10 years the school has been open. The other North championship came in 2005.
"This is outstanding. It's a great feeling," Hofmann said. "But the coach in me was focused through every pitch until the last out. I wasn't going to believe it until it was over."
Manogue forced the 'If Game' by rolling to the 10-run romp in the first game of the day. The Miners broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the fourth by scoring three runs for a 6-3 lead. They didn't let up. Manogue put up six runs in the fifth and eight in the seventh, to grab a 20-4 lead.
Most of that late damage was done against some inexperienced SSHS pitching as Cougars coaches looked to save their top arms for the second game of the day.
Spanish Springs did score first. Chase Kittlilsen hit a solo homer in the bottom of the first, but Manogue made it 3-1 with a trio of runs in the top of inning two.
Still, the Cougars were up to the task early. They knotted the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the third. Bray hit a solo home run and Kittilsen had an RBI double.