Cactus bats come alive late to seal semifinal berth

Cactus pitcher Emilie Guerra, center, celebrates with teammates after a victory against Cactus Shadows during their 4A state softball playoff game on Tuesday May 2, 2017. (Ralph Freso for West Valley Preps)

By George Witkowski
For West Valley Preps

The Cactus Cobra seniors are in rarified air.

The group has won all 45 career home games at Cactus (27-5) and toped it off with a 4A 6-1 quarterfinals win over Cave Creek Cactus Shadows. The Falcons close out their season at 23-11.

The game was scoreless through 3½ innings, but the Cobras broke through with a two-run single from senior center fielder Jade Osterhoudt, scoring sophomore shortstop Alynah Torres and senior first baseman Ursula Del Campo.

Breaking the ice was just the thing for the Cobras said coach Bartt Underwood, since the No. 2 seed took a narrow walk-off 3-2 win April 29 in the first round against No. 15 Douglas.

“The zero-zero is kind of like our game against Douglas,” he said. “I told them, ‘why don’t we get off the plate and let the ball get deeper and get with it.’”

Cactus outfielder Jade Osterhoudt catches a deep fly ball near the fence against Cactus Shadows during the fourth inning of their state softball playoff game on Tuesday May 2, 2017. (Ralph Freso for West Valley Preps)

Underwood’s team will have to leave the comforts of home to win a state title. The Cobras face No. 3 Sunrise Mountain 5-2 winners May 2 over Tucson Pueblo Magnet in the semifinals May 4 at the Rose Mofford Softball Complex.

Cactus beat its district rival twice in mid-April, using big sixth innings in both matchups.

Underwood said would like to see his team win the 4A State Championship game 7:30 p.m. May 9 at Farrington Field against either Tucson team, No. 5 Salpointe Catholic or No. 1 Canyon Del Oro because of one big reason.

“I’m happy for the girls, but I’m not too good at runners-up speeches because we’re going to get to that game,” Underwood said.

Cactus lost to Tucson Ironwood Ridge in the Division II title game last year.

Osterhoudt was relieved for the comfortable win, but was a bit worried it may be another Douglas game after three unproductive innings.

“It was turning out like the Douglas game and I was freaking out,” Osterhoudt said. “I wanted to win this game for them (my teammates).”

Cactus winning pitcher junior Emilie Guerra struck out three, scattered eight hits and escaped three big jams allowing only one run.

“When they had second and third (none out) in the first inning I knew had a great defense,” Guerra said. “I was relaxed and I knew we could get them.”

Cactus’ Carson Gambs tries to drop down a bunt against Cactus Shadows during the sixth inning of their state softball playoff game on Tuesday May 2, 2017. (Ralph Freso for West Valley Preps)

Guerra settled down to strikeout the next two batters and get the third to fly out.

The Falcons countered with a run in the top of the sixth on doubles from sophomore Caitly Walker and senior Rachel Rodriguez. Cactus Shadows put runners on the corners with none out, but a double play and strikeout ended the inning.

Cactus blew it open in its sixth on doubles from Torres, Del Campo, Guerra and Osterhoudt to make it 5-1. A ground out made it 6-1 as Guerra retired the final the Falcon hitters in the seventh.

“I know my team, and it was just a matter of time before we busted it open,” Guerra said. “Our hitting is great and we’re adjusting a little bit later.”

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