MESQUITE - There were a couple of firsts for the Fernley High School baseball team on Friday. Namely, the Vaqueros reached the 30-win plateau for the first time and Levi Diaz became the first pitcher to win 10 games in one season.
And Fernley was only two outs away from playing for its first-ever state baseball championship, only to see Bishop Manogue rally to score twice in the top of the seventh inning to pull out a 7-6 victory against the Vaqueros in the NIAA/U.S. Bank 3A State Tournament winners' bracket final.
As a result, Fernley (30-8) plays Moapa Valley this morning at 10 a.m. in the losers' bracket final of the double elimination tournament. The winner of that game will earn a shot for the championship, but they will need to beat defending state champion Manogue (34-3) twice to earn the trophy.
"The kids plan on being in the championship game, and I fully believe they can do that, but no matter what happens, I will still feel like we're winners," said Fernley coach James Huckaby, who will send senior Garrett Hall to the mound to pitch against Moapa Valley. "Our kids gave 110 percent today; they gave everything they had."
Fernley earned its shot at Manogue on Friday morning by beating Moapa Valley 4-3 behind a sterling relief pitching performance by Diaz and some clutch defense in the field. Diaz, who pitched a complete game shutout against Whittell on Thursday, threw 3 scoreless innings of relief to close the door on Moapa Valley.
"Levi was named the MVP of our division, and I'll tell you what, he proved it today," Huckaby said of Diaz, who improved his season record to 10-2.
The junior left-hander came on with runners on first and second and one out in the fourth and retired the side when right fielder Al Polito made a diving catch and then doubled the lead runner off with his throw to Hall at second base.
Moapa Valley loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the seventh, but Diaz worked out of the jam with two strikeouts and a fly out to Polito to end the game.
"If you're a baseball fan, the two games we played today were just incredible," Huckaby said. "It doesn't get any better than this in high school baseball."
Fernley scored what proved to be the winning run in the sixth. Hall hit a leadoff single, Polito singled and Ryan Ferris beat out a bunt single to load the bases with one out. Aaron Keller hit a grounder to second that forced one runner, but he beat the throw to first base, allowing the go-ahead run to score for Fernley.