June 9, 2012
CL Playoff Game 3

Diamondbacks  (Cocco's Pizza)   10
Nationals (Gregory Hillyard, DMD)    7


In a Continental League quarterfinal classic that took eight innings to settle, the eighth-seeded Diamondbacks fought from start to finish and showed exceptional poise en route to a thrilling, 10-7 victory over the top-seeded Nationals.

Joey "The Gentle Giant" Cornacchia, who had an absolutely phenomenal game, came through big-time for the D'backs in the decisive inning. First, with two outs and two strikes in the top of the eighth, the powerful lefty launched a three-run bomb to break a 7-7 tie. With that blast, Cornacchia completed the cycle (single, double, triple, home run), a feat rarely achieved on any level of baseball. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Cornacchia made a pair of silky-smooth plays at second base, the second of which accounted for the final out of the game, to help propel the Diamondbacks into the semifinals.


But Cornacchia, who went 4 for 4 with six RBI and three runs scored, was just one of many D'backs who had stellar games. Defensively, Jake McDowell looked like a young Mike Schmidt as he came up with no less than four tremendous plays at the hot corner. Meanwhile, Nicholas Corritore went 4 for 4 with four runs scored, two doubles and an RBI, and played a fantastic game at first base; Lizzy Gibian went 3 for 3 with three RBI (two of which came with two outs) and made a pair of critical plays in the field; Milan Hortua went 3 for 4 with three runs scored and played well in left field; Luke Mersch notched a hit and made four outstanding plays in the field; and Josh Rodgers went 3 for 3. Blayke Reid and Nico Villalobos added a single apiece for a Diamondbacks offense that racked up 20 hits (including three doubles, a triple and a homer) and put the ball in play 26 times.


McDowell, Corritore, Mersch, Gibian and Cornacchia put on a defensive clinic as they combined to record 10 putouts for the victors.


For the Nationals: Garrett Lynn went 3 for 3 with three RBI, including a game-tying, two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the sixth; Andrew Weber went 3 for 3 with a triple and two runs scored; Charlie McConnell went 2 for 3 with a run scored and a two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the sixth; Zach Douglas went 2 for 3 with three runs scored and an RBI; Noah Grieco went 3 for 3; Joshua Osher went 2 for 3 with an RBI; Nicholas DelPizzo and Jeremy Mack each went 2 for 4; and Ethan Ryan (run scored) and Bennett Bornstein picked up a single apiece for a Nats offense that amassed 21 hits and put the ball in play 31 times.


The D'backs opened up a 3-0 lead in the top of the first. After Hortua started things off with a base hit and the next batter was retired, Corritore singled to put runners on first and second with one out. Then, Cornacchia crushed a three-bagger to deep left to plate Hortua and Corritore. After the next batter was retired, Gibian ripped a single into right to score Cornacchia. Although the Nationals' pitcher robbed Mersch of a hit to end the inning, the Diamondbacks had made it clear that they came ready to play.


With one out in the bottom of the first, DelPizzo and Mack stroked back-to-back singles, but the D'backs got out of the inning without giving up a run. On DelPizzo's scorcher of a hit, Mersch made a strong play on the move to knock the ball down at deep short. Although the ball reached the outfield grass, Hortua swiftly picked it up and got it back in to hold DelPizzo to a single.


In the top of the second, Villalobos put together a terrific, seven-pitch at-bat en route to picking up a one-out single, and Rodgers followed with a hit of his own, but the Nats escaped unscathed.


After Weber singled to start the bottom of the second, Douglas blistered a shot to the left side that looked like trouble, but McDowell snared the bullet at the hot corner and fired a strike to second, where the always-reliable Mersch secured the ball to complete a spectacular, 5-4 putout. After the next batter was retired, McConnell and Lynn hit consecutive singles to bring Douglas around with the Nationals' first run of the game. Osher followed with a hit of his own to load the bases with two outs, but the Nationals were unable to cut into the lead any further.


Both teams went scoreless in the third. After the Diamondbacks went in order in the top of the frame, Grieco and Bornstein hit consecutive singles to put runners on first and second with nobody out in the bottom half. Then, after DelPizzo lofted a high fly to third that McDowell coolly plucked out of the air, Mack singled to load the bases with one out. But the D'backs kept their 3-1 lead intact heading into the fourth. During the inning, Mersch made an excellent play at pitcher, vacuuming up the ball by the mound and whipping it over to the sure-handed Corritore at first.

In the top of the fourth, Corritore and Cornacchia pounded back-to-back doubles to widen the Diamondbacks' lead to 4-1. Then, after McDowell moved Cornacchia to third with a grounder to the right side, Gibian plated the soft-spoken star with a single to make it 5-1. Mersch followed with a single of his own to put runners on first and second with one out, but, then, the Nats' pitcher took a hit away from Reid, and the next batter was retired to end the half-inning.


Weber smacked a triple to open the home half of the fourth, and Douglas promptly knocked him in with a single. After Ryan advanced Douglas to second with a grounder to the right side (Corritore made an unassisted putout at first), the next batter was retired. Then, with two outs, Lynn singled Douglas over to third, and Osher plated him with a base hit of his own to pull the Nationals within 5-3. The next batter was retired to end the inning.

Rodgers led off the top of the fifth with a single, but the Nationals' pitcher made a nice play to take a hit away from Sam Davenport and, after the next two batters were retired, the Diamondbacks' lead remained at two runs.

In the bottom of the fifth, Grieco singled, and Bornstein moved him over to second with a groundout to Corritore at first. That set the stage for a sensational play. When DelPizzo sent a hard-hit ball through the left side, it looked as though the Nationals might place runners on the corners with one out, but the D'backs had other ideas. Without hesitation, Mersch scooped up the ball in left-center and hurled a long, perfect throw to third, where McDowell quickly made the catch and tagged the runner before he could get to the bag. Then, Gibian closed out the inning when she calmly fielded a grounder on the right side and nabbed DelPizzo, who was en route to second.

The Diamondbacks padded their lead with two runs in the top of the sixth. After Hortua started things off with a single and the next batter was retired, Corritore smashed a double to score the D'backs' leadoff hitter. Cornacchia followed with a single to put runners on the corners, but the next batter was retired. Then, for the second time in the game, Gibian came through with a two-out, RBI hit. The Nationals' first baseman made an unassisted putout to steal a hit from Mersch and end the inning, but the Diamondbacks carried a 7-3 advantage into the home half of the sixth.

After the first two batters of the bottom of the sixth were retired, the Nats appeared to be in deep trouble. But, as Yogi Berra famously said, "It ain't over till it's over." First, Weber singled to keep the Nationals alive. Then, Douglas got a hit. Then, Ryan singled to load the bases. Then, McConnell smoked a double to score Weber and Douglas. Suddenly, the Nats had the tying run on second with two outs. Moments later, Lynn doubled to plate Ryan and McConnell and knot things up at 7-7. To use another Yogi Berra reference, for the D'backs, who suffered several heartbreaking defeats during the regular season, it looked like "déjà vu all over again." Nonetheless, the next batter was retired to force extra innings.

In the top of the seventh, Reid singled and, after the next batter was retired, Rodgers picked up his third hit of the day to put runners at first and second with one out. But the next two batters were retired to keep the score tied.

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Grieco singled. Then, after the next batter was retired, DelPizzo lifted a pop-up to short. Calm, cool, and collected as always, Gibian settled under the ball and cradled it for the final out of the inning.

In the top of the eighth, after Hortua hit a one-out single, the next batter was retired. Then, Corritore singled to set the stage for Cornacchia. Having already tripled, doubled and singled, Cornacchia fouled off multiple pitches before demolishing the ball into center. As the ball rolled past the Nationals' outfielders and traveled farther and farther away from the infield, Hortua and Corritore crossed the plate, and, shortly thereafter, Cornacchia trucked around third and into home. Having simultaneously completed the cycle and given his team a three-run lead, Cornacchia received a boisterous, hero's welcome back to the visitors' side of the field. Although the next batter was retired, the D'backs took a 10-7 advantage into the bottom of the eighth.

The Diamondbacks flashed some serious leather to lock up the final three outs of the game. First, Mack sent a well-hit ball to the right side that Cornacchia cleanly fielded and delivered to Corritore. Then, McDowell wrapped up his Gold Glove day by gobbling up Jake Stephens' grounder at third and slinging a beautiful toss across the diamond to Corritore, who, as usual, made the catch look easy. The remarkable, 5-3 putout left the D'backs, once again, within one out of victory. As did the previous pair of hitters, Sara Kolecki made solid contact, but Cornacchia corralled the well-struck ball and pitched it to Corritore to wrap up the win for the Diamondbacks.

For the D'backs, who never gave up and kept believing in each other despite suffering through an 0-9 start to the season, knocking off the No. 1 seed was a testament to their hard work, perseverance, unity and team spirit.

NOTES: Corritore raised his batting average to .805, his slugging percentage to 1.024 and his run total to 16, all team highs. He also heads into the semifinals leading the Diamondbacks in hits (33), singles (26) and triples (2), and shares the team lead in doubles (5) and RBI (13) with Cornacchia, who lifted his batting average to .625, his slugging percentage to .875, his hit total to 25, his singles total to 18 and his run total to 15. ... With his three-run homer, Cornacchia took over the team lead in two-out RBI with seven, one more than McDowell's total. ... The D'backs improved to 3-0 when their manager wears his 2008 World Series Champions shirt. ... The Nationals entered the contest on a six-game winning streak.