West Valley Preps
Like the 4A softball state title game itself, Sunrise Mountain got off to a slow start.
Nearby lightning caused a 30-minute delay in the bottom of the first inning at ASU’s Farrington Stadium Tuesday night. Right after it resumed top seed Tucson Canyon del Oro pounced, scoring three runs.
The Dorados were in control until the sixth, when the Mustangs’ bats sprung to life. But the four-run hole was too big to dig out of in two innings and Canyon del Oro (30-4) held on for a 4-2 win and ninth state title.
“That’s when your seniors really come in. Your seniors want everybody to be loose (during a delay) but they know how to turn it around and get everyone focused. That’s the difference between a 14 year old and an 18 year old,” Canyon del Oro Coach Kelly Fowler said.
The lightning delay failed to stall the Dorados in the first inning. Sophomore Hope Banales poked a single just past first base just before the stop in play.
Junior Ellessa Bonstrom wasn’t bothered, drilling an RBI triple that rolled to the fence in right center after the game resumed. Next up was senior Arianna Acedo, whose single brought in Bonstrom.
After a walk, senior pitcher Hanna Krosky settled down with a pair of strikeouts. But senior Arleyne Campos’ two-out grounder skidded rapidly past second base and glanced off the face of diving senior Pilar Gutierrez.
The result was another Canyon del Oro run and Gutierrez’s exit from the game.
“They’re a strong lineup. They’re tough to throw to and I think there were some points that Hanna maybe gave a little too much credit and didn’t challenge them — which is fine,” Coach Jody Pruitt said. “When you take Pilar Gutierrez out of the game, who is our best hitter, hitting over .500, that hurts a little bit.”
Sophomore Halle Morris kept the Mustangs off balance through the first five innings with her off-speed stuff and rise ball. Only freshmen Sydney Bickel and Summer Pells picked up hits until the sixth.
Coach Fowler said Morris broke her femur in the off season and slowly worked her way back while freshman Amya Legarra handled the bulk of the pitching. Morris had not pitched more than five innings in a game this year but Fowler and her staff felt she was the best option against the Mustangs and let her finish it.
“I have no idea what went through her head. She had a ferocious injury. She really geared down and found another place,” Coach Fowler said. “She really did what we wanted her to do and did even better. We thought she was better for Sunrise Mountain because she can keep the ball down against their slap hitters. Sunrise Mountain is known for their slappers and their speed so you you don’t want to give kids with speed a gapper.”
Canyon del Oro added an insurance run in the fifth as junior Alexis Kaiser singled to left and stole second. Junior Anya Gonzalez bunted her over to third and Kaiser took advantage of a high throw when she was cheating off the bag to score.
“If you replay the game a little bit, we had a throwing mistake that moved a kid into scoring position in the first. Then we have the blunder over here at third. If you take that away, we felt confident with where we were at in the lineup. So mistakes came back and haunted us,” Coach Pruitt said.
Bickel blooped another single into left to lead off the sixth and start the Sunrise Mountain rally. Senior Kodi Ramirez followed with a double to the fence in left.
Junior Cheylie Greenwood and Krosky followed with consecutive ground ball to the right side of the infield to plate their teammates and cut the Dorados lead to 4-2.
Freshman Kendall Gutierrez, hitting sixth in place of her older sister, hit a dribbler that died in the dirt for a leadoff single in the seventh. But Morris recovered to induce two ground balls and end the game with a strikeout.
“We were doing to do too much with that outside pitch. We weren’t trying to drive it where it was pitched. We were trying to yank on it and she got a lot of ground balls off of it. We have to tip our cap to her. She did a fabulous job,” Coach Pruitt said.
It was a return to glory for the Dorados, who last won a state title in 2012 — against the Mustangs in this same stadium.
Even in defeat it was a landmark game for the Mustangs as well. Sunrise Mountain ended a four-year finals drought — after winning state at Farrington in 2013.
In their one and only season in Division I (similar to this year’s 6A) the Mustangs suffered through injuries and uncharacteristic play, finishing 11-12. While this year’s team looked better, a title game appearance was a surprise.
“If you would have talked to us at the beginning of the year and asked us if we were going to be here, I’d have said, ‘Eh, probably not.’ I knew we were going to be inexperienced with our young kids and wasn’t sure what we would have in the (circle)” Coach Pruitt said. “I’m super proud of our seniors. It took a lot of senior leadership to turn around from last season. Today doesn’t change how I feel about our 2017 season. We hope to be in this position again and end up on the other side.”
For one, who would emerge as the ace pitcher? A slugging first baseman in her first three years, Krosky seemed an unlikely choice.
But the senior stepped up and seized the job in the season’s second half. Pruitt said most of her experience coming in was during batting practice for her club team.
“We weren’t sure where she was going to be. I think we have a 1A and a 1B. That changed throughout the season and all of a sudden she really started gathering it and dominating. We though, ‘Hey, we’r going to ride this and see how far we can go with it,'” Coach Pruitt said. ”