Horizon wins 5A championship in 16-inning affair

After 16 innings and nearly 6 hours of play, Horizon beat Nogales 7-4 at Diablo Stadium on Tuesday night to win the 5A state championship.

Horizon High School baseball coach Jeff Urlaub knew it would take a valiant defensive effort to knock off Nogales in the 5A state championship.

But he didn’t expect it to take as long as it did. After 16 innings and nearly six hours at Diablo Stadium on Tuesday night, Horizon defeated Nogales High School 7-4 to win the 5A state title.

“This has to go down as one of the greatest high school games of all time,” Urlaub said. “We punched back when we needed to and they punched back. I told my kids to give me everything they had left and we would come out on top.”

Tied at four heading into the top of the 16th inning, an RBI-single by Horizon junior infielder Nick Gore gave the Huskies the lead. One batter later, a balk by Nogales junior pitcher Jose Guerrero brought in another run for Horizon.

A blooper to right following the balk scored another run for the Huskies, giving them a 7-4 lead heading into the final frame.

Nogales managed to put a runner in scoring position before Horizon's right-handed pitcher Sam Buchkowski recorded the final out with a pop-up to shortstop Kody Huff.

“I just saw it pop up and I couldn’t believe that it was coming toward me,” Huff said. “It was something I dreamt of since I was a little kid going to (Eric) Kibler camps. You look out on the scoreboard and you see six state championships over the last 39 years and all the numbers for the former players that have won before you.

“I just wanted to try and emulate that success and bring another championship to this program.”

Nogales and Horizon’s match up was the longest prep championship game in Arizona history.

It became official once the two schools entered the 13th inning. But even with multiple opportunities, neither team could break through one another’s stifling defense.

Huff played a vital role on the mound for the Huskies, pitching eight scoreless innings. He gave up just one hit.

He started the game at catcher before moving to shortstop and then the mound. He was moved back to shortstop after his time on the mound came to an end.

“I haven’t thrown a ton of pitches like that so I didn’t want to get hurt,” Huff said. “It was kind of a lot, but I’m glad we were able to break through.”

Both teams went scoreless for eight innings before an RBI-double from Horizon outfielder Austin Corbett gave the Huskies a one-run lead. But Nogales answered thanks to an RBI-double from Brayan Espinoza.

That’s when Gore stepped up to the plate.

“I was just trying to barrel up a ball and see what happens,” Gore said. “I was put in that same position three times in this game and couldn’t come up clutch. I was just able to sneak it past the second baseman. I don’t have many words to describe how I’m feeling.”

The two teams combined for 31 hits on the night and 11 runs, most of which came in extra innings. Only two errors committed, both of which were in the infield by Nogales.

Urlaub, in his first season at Horizon, coached the Huskies to their first state championship since 2010.

There were many times throughout the year that the Horizon players felt they were overlooked as championship contenders. But as they recorded the final out, it was hard contain their emotions.

Following the team’s celebration near home plate, former Horizon coach Eric Kubler, who started the program 39 years ago, made his way to the field.

As Urlaub embraced Kubler near the dugout, he was overcome with emotion after a record-breaking night.  

“I don’t even remember who caught it, I just bear-hugged my coaching staff and started getting emotional,” Urlaub said. “When I saw Coach K I lost it. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

“This one is for him, too.”