Cactus softball rebounds with win over Mustangs

Cactus’ Kaiulani Nowell (#11) slides under a tag by Sunrise Mountain’s Summer Pells (#15) Thursday, April 13, 2017 at Cactus High School in Glendale. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Cactus softball entered its second rivalry game of the week with a sour taste in its mouth following a 13-12 upset loss at Greenway Tuesday.

Thursday afternoon, the Cobras left Sunrise Mountain shaking its head after a handful of Mustang mistakes proved crucial in a 6-2 Cactus win.

The showdown between district foes ranked in the top five in 4A had its share of mistakes and odd plays. But a determined Cactus team picked up a handful of rally-crushing outs and scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth to pull away.

“I think the Greenway game had a lot to do with how we played today, especially in the circle. Emile (Guerra) gave up hits, every time she didn’t put the ball where it was supposed to be. She did that all game against Greenway. We had 15 hits and scored 12 runs and lost,” Cactus Coach Bartt Underwood said. “Overall, we didn’t have a ton of errors. Our pitcher did a pretty good job getting out of trouble. We made the plays we had to. We happened to get some hits when that pitcher made a mistake. That’s the only difference.”

Sunrise Mountain (15-3, 13-1) entered the game with a 15-game winning streak and the No. 1 ranking. The Mustangs left with neither largely because they left seven runners in scoring position.

Cactus manufactured or fell into its first three runs after Sunrise Mountain senior shortstop Kodi Ramirez blasted a two-run homer to dead center for a 2-0 lead for the visitors in the top of the second.

Junior pitcher Emile Guerra walked to lead off the bottom of the second and freshman Kaiulani Nowell came in to pinch run. Nowell got to second with a sacrifice bunt and to third thanks to a high throw before freshman outfielder Carson Gambs’ RBI single.

Cactus’ Kaytlin Leyvas (#21) celebrates after scoring a run against Sunrise Mountain Thursday, April 13, 2017 at Cactus High School in Glendale. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the third, the Cobras took advantage of a pair of Mustang errors. Sophomore shortstop Alynah Torres led off with a walk and got to second on a fielder’s choice.

An error trying to throw freshman catcher Kaytlin Leyvas out at first allowed her to reach second and Torres third. Then Guerra’s grounder ate up an infielder and both Cobras scored for a 3-2 lead.

The home team had a chance to add to its advantage until freshman third baseman Aubrey Chavez was too aggressive trying to stretch a double into a triple with Nowell running in front of her. Senior pitcher Hanna Krosky still, however, should have been out of the inning with a lead.

“We had an inning where we played absolutely brutal defense and our pitcher had to throw more pitches. You start moving them along to get back to the top of the order and good things aren’t going to happen for you,” Sunrise Mountain Coach Jody Pruitt said. “She there really well but we had to make six outs in whatever inning that was — the third.”

Conversely, Guerra was in a degree of trouble in all seven innings pitched but wiggled out other than the Ramirez homer. Sunrise Mountain loaded the bases in the first but Gambs made a diving catch of a foul ball to end the inning.

Senior second baseman Pilar Gutierrez was caught trying to steal third, ending the third inning threat and a sacrifice bunt got junior outfielder Jaymie Moore to second in the top of the fourth, but she stalled there.

Sunrise Mountain saw golden chances go awry in the fifth and sixth. Gutierrez walked with two outs and a fielding error sent her to third and junior catcher Grace Schmidt to second. Guerra recovered for an inning-ending strikeout.

Senior outfielder Tori Nowlin led off the sixth by doubling Guerra right back into the weeds. Senior Megan Mandrell came on as a pinch runner and moved to third on a ground ball out.

Freshman Sydney Bickel walked, then Ramirez hit a grounder directly to junior second baseman Nicole Osteen, who stepped up to field it as Bickel ran into her. The result? Mandrill stays at third, Bickel is out and Ramirez goes to first.

Once again, Guerra survived with a ground ball for the force play at second.

“We left a lot of runners on base. We had some base running blunders with the signs. The good news is we didn’t bring Mustang softball today but we still competed,” Coach Pruitt said.

Cactus finally broke free in its half of the sixth. Senior outfielder Jade Osterhoudt led off by doubling to the base of the center field fence and fellow senior outfielder Brynlee Gibbs drove her in on a single to right.

With one out, Torres took Krosky deep for her 10th home run of the season and all the cushion the Cobras would need.

Sunrise Mountain’s Hanna Krosky (#8) throws a pitch against Cactus Thursday, April 13, 2017 at Cactus High School in Glendale. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

“Hanna Krosky doesn’t throw gas, but she’s smart. She didn’t give Alynah, Ursual (Del Campo) or Emile anything to hit,” Coach Underwood said. “That last changeup that Alynah hit out was an oops. She left that pitch higher than she wanted to. That happens. I told them all game that she’s not going to give you anything, so you have to be stingy.”

Now these teams are tied atop the West Valley Region and are going to play the tiebreaker in five days. Sunrise Mountain hosts Cactus at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Both coaches said they are not fans of the current AIA scheduling method and its emphasis on back-to-back games in region play.

“It really gives you a good test of where are we and what can we do better,” Coach Underwood said. “(The schedule) is crap. We have no say who is in our region. Metro Tech is on 15th and Thomas and they’re in the West Valley Region? Why don’t coaches have a say in our freedom games? We’ve won 29-0, 19-0 and 17-0. What kind of challenge is that? Computer scheduling doesn’t make it fair.”

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