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home : sports : sports November 24, 2015

Chino Valley baseball team reaches Final Four
Matt Santos/Review
R.J. Bell, seen during a March 5 doubleheader at home, and the Cougars beat River Valley 11-4 on Saturday to reach the AIA Div. 3 state tournament semifinals. They will face Fountain Hills on Friday, May 10, for the right to play for a state championship.
Matt Santos/Review
R.J. Bell, seen during a March 5 doubleheader at home, and the Cougars beat River Valley 11-4 on Saturday to reach the AIA Div. 3 state tournament semifinals. They will face Fountain Hills on Friday, May 10, for the right to play for a state championship.
Special to the Review

The Chino Valley baseball program is living up to its winning pedigree. Again.

The Cougars blasted their third straight opponent on Saturday afternoon to reach the AIA Div. 3 state tournament's Final Four. By knocking off 4-seed River Valley 11-4 at the Surprise Sports Complex, the 10-seeded Cougars will advance to the semifinal round where only 3-seed Fountain Hills stands between them and their third state championship game appearance since 2008.

"Our pitching's doing well, our defense in three games hasn't made an error, and we're finally finding the offense," Chino head coach Bruce Nesbitt said Saturday. "They're doing a good job on the basepaths and getting some back-to-back hits; something that we didn't do through the year. We're starting to hit with some confidence."

Chino Valley, now 21-8 on the season and winners of 12 straight ballgames, broke its quarterfinal playoff game open with five runs in the second inning to lead 6-1. Runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings followed for an offense that racked up 15 hits on the day.

Seniors Tanner Knight and D.J. Parker each went 3-for-5 and combined for three RBIs. Sophomore RJ Bell added two hits and three runs scored, junior Branden Redfern went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, and junior Jeremiah Moeller reached base three times on two walks and one hit-by-pitch.

On the mound, Bell got the win by going six innings where he fanned seven, walked one and issued six hits. Redfern threw the seventh.

The Cougars have eliminated two straight higher seeds to reach the semifinals, and have outscored their three state playoff opponents 31-4. The team hasn't lost in almost a month, since a 6-4 setback to Snowflake at a tournament in Goodyear on April 6.

Chino Valley won the school's first-ever baseball state title in 2010, and advanced to the state final game in 2008, both under Nesbitt. The Cougars also played in back-to-back state championship games under Tom Pratt in the former Class 3A back in 1997-98, but came up short both times.

So this is a baseball program that knows its way around the state brackets.

"We're certainly never satisfied. But they're playing well," Nesbitt added of his club. "The chemistry seems to be better. They're encouraging one another, and we've explained to them that it just gets harder and harder every game. So far they've been up to the task. They're just playing pretty near-perfect baseball, something that we didn't do a lot during the season."

The Cougars will meet Fountain Hills on Friday, May 10, at Surprise Stadium, the spring training home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. First pitch is at 4 p.m.

The Falcons qualified by beating Cottonwood's Mingus Union 12-2 in Saturday's quarterfinal, and Page 7-2 in the previous round. They've won four of their past five games.

The two teams have not meet in 2013.

The winner will advance to the state championship game on Saturday, May 11, against either 13-seed Empire or 9-seed Payson. Chino Valley hasn't faced Empire this season, but did lose to Payson 8-1 back on April 5 in the same Goodyear tournament where the Cougars last lost.

In terms of common opponents between Chino and Fountain Hills, the Falcons have played - and beat - Payson twice this spring.

Nesbitt says the team will go with either Redfern or Bell on the mound in Friday's semifinal, but is leaning more toward the right-handed Redfern for defensive reasons behind the mound.

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