Janelle Christman and her Canyon Del Oro Dorados came within one strike of a return trip to the 4A-I state championship game.
The green and gold fell to Peoria Sunrise Mountain, 5-4, in a semi-final game last month.
The loss was the only time Christman, a senior, had tasted defeat in her final game of a season. From 2007 through 2009, the Kenzie Fowler-led Dorados won the state title each time.
"It's never a guarantee," Christman admitted. "It was a hard loss. I was proud of them for getting as far as they did."
The Dorados, with two seniors, finished the year ranked #10 in Arizona by Max Preps.
Christman did not pitch in the Peoria game after working in the first two CDO playoff games. In 12 innings of work, she did not allow a run in the team's two playoff wins. She threw a shutout win over Raymond Kellis, then relieved in CDO's 2-1 win over Cactus Shadows.
"Janelle helped us tremendously this year," said CDO coach Kelly Fowler. "She was diagnosed with a torn meniscus and still pitched at the end of the year.
"We lived off of her drop ball, which gave us a ton of ground outs."
Christman, who prefers pitching to batting, likes the mental aspect of mound work.
"You don't think about the crowd," she said. "You just focus on your catcher and the signs."
"She is an extremely hard worker," said CDO pitching coach Gale Bundrick. "Her steadiness was never more evident than this year. She stabilizes things. She doesn't get frustrated."
There was early focus this season on Kenzie Fowler's departure, especially after two early games in which the Dorados gave up more than 10 runs.
"It's hard to lose a Kenzie Fowler," Christman said. "It was very inspirational to see how courageous she was as a person."
A 16-0 loss to Sierra Vista Buena was a major low point.
"The Buena game was horrific," Christman said. "That was our worst game."
Christman thought the whipping became a wake-up call, getting CDO's attention. The pitching began to come together. Christman was the drop-ball pitching specialist, while sophomore Kayla Bonstrom emerged as the hard-throwing contrast.
"It seemed like we always had one of us unavailable because of injury, so the other one just stepped in. That was very helpful."
Another gut check for the Dorados came in a mid-season matchup at Marana. A very talented Tigers team came in flying high with a 13-game winning streak. The Dorados ended the win streak with an 8-4 win.
"A lot of people underestimated us," Christman said. "One thing CDO knows how to do is win.
"We have a tradition to uphold. It's more of an honor than a burden."
Adrianna Privatera is the other CDO softball graduate.
"Adrianna was one of my best friends," Christman said. "I've known Kayla (Bonstrom) since grade school. I'm going to miss CDO."
"Of course we will miss her and Adrianna," said coach Fowler. "Janelle is very well-liked by all the kids and one of the kindest kids that I have met.
"Janelle cares deeply about the feelings of others. She always wants everyone to do well."
Christman will pitch for Grand Canyon University next year.