May 11, 2005 - With Canyon Del Oro High School's girls softball team knotted at three with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, and final, inning against Sahuaro High School in the championship game of the Class 5A Southern Region Tournament, Dana Alcocer stood, poised in the batter's box, the model of cool, calm collectiveness.
That was on the outside. Inside raged a firestorm of adrenaline and nerves. Her teammates had already erased a three-run deficit to start the inning, and now the spotlight shone directly on the senior to drive home the winning run - who was perched at first base.
Dramas such as the CDO-Sahuaro game are the lifeblood of the regional and state playoffs. As May starts, the high school sports season comes to a close as softball teams join baseball, volleyball and track and field in the final push for tourney glory. As of the afternoon of May 9, nine teams from the Northwest and Foothills were alive in their respective tournaments, including CDO softball.
Alcocer got the playoff season off to a thunderous start, coming through for the Dorados in a big way - a line-drive home run over the left-centerfield wall to give CDO the 5-3 win and 5A South title.
"I was just trying to put one on the grass," said Alcocer of her region-winning long ball.
The win gives the Dorados home field advantage for the first two rounds of the state playoffs and the possibility of playing through the semifinals in Tucson.
"That sits us in fat city," said CDO head coach Kelly Fowler of the regional title win over Sahuaro. "Every single kid wants to play at UA Stadium."
The quarterfinals through semifinals games will be played at the University of Arizona's Hillenbrand Stadium if a Tucson team is still in the tournament.
CDO took one more step closer to playing at UA with an opening round 2-0 win at state against North Canyon High School. The win set up a second-round match-up at CDO against Dobson High School. Results were not available at press time.
Other softball squads at state include Catalina Foothills and Ironwood Ridge high schools, which squared off against one another on May 9 at Catalina Foothills in the second round of the Class 4A tournament. Results of that game were not available at press time. Ironwood Ridge, the No. 1 seed from the Sonoran Region, earned a bye in the first round while Catalina Foothills, No. 3 from the Kino Region, knocked off Payson High School, 9-0.
The biggest surprise in softball this season may be the play of the girls squad from Pusch Ridge Christian Academy. After claiming the Class 2A South Region, the Lions continued their winning ways in the state tourney, advancing to the semifinals with victories over Bourgade Catholic (5-3 in 12 innings) and Hayden. Pusch Ridge's next game will be May 12 at Rose Mofford Complex in Phoenix against the winner of Morenci High School and Phoenix Christian Academy.
On the larger diamond, two of Tucson's finest are looking to slug their way to a state crown.
Annual powerhouse CDO (20-8, 8-4) once again finds itself in the thick of the Class 5A tourney. After a strong start, the Dorados struggled down the stretch, thanks, in large part, to a broken leg suffered midseason by catcher and team leader Ryan Lush. Lush has returned to the lineup, but not behind the plate. For the playoffs, he'll be the everyday left fielder.
A third-place finish in the region tournament behind Salpointe and Sahuaro leaves CDO as a third seed at state with a first-round game May 9 against Mesquite High School. Results of that game were not available at press time.
CDO may be a formidable opponent every season in the playoffs, but this year may belong to Catalina Foothills (27-2, 14-0). Led by UA bound pitcher John James, the Falcons have throttled their competition this season, their lone hiccup coming against Sabino High School in the championship game of the Kino Region, a 3-1 loss. Foothills breezed by Cactus, 9-0, in opening round action and faced Moon Valley on May 10.
Both the 5A and 4A state finals will be played May 14 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Some could argue that Tucson is the capitol of boys volleyball in Arizona. Four Northwest teams will battle in the state playoffs starting May 9 and continuing through May 14. With not enough teams across the state to compete in separate 5A and 4A tourneys, the two conferences pool teams to duke it out for the state's top honor.
CDO (22-1, 12-0) has held the No. 1 spot in the state for a majority of the season. Standing in the Dorados' way of a state title are Ironwood Ridge and Mountain View. Both CDO and Ironwood Ridge (29-5, 12-0) earned first-round byes after winning their respective region tournaments. The Dorados will get the winner of the May 9 first-round match between Cienega and Deer Valley high schools.
Ironwood Ridge will draw the winner of Salpointe Catholic High School vs. Chandler High School.
Mountain View (26-7, 8-4) and Marana (7-9, 6-6) high schools each have just one squad in any of this year's team state playoffs. Marana drew No. 1 seeded Mountain Pointe High School in the first round May 10 while Mountain View will travel to Amphitheater High School to face the Panthers.
The state playoffs for boys and girls track and field will begin May 11 for Class 5A, while 4A through 1A will kick off May 12. All meets will be held at Arizona State University in Tempe.