“Heartbreaking” was the word described by Marana softball coach George Corona as his Tigers were eliminated from the state playoffs at the hands of the Desert Ridge Jaguars on April 30.
Marana had the win well within reach, up 2-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh before making some critical mistakes on both ends – the timing of which corresponded with an offensive explosion from the Jaguars.
Leading the late charge for Desert Ridge was sophomore Ashtyn Blakeman, whose triple to left field sent in base runners Jackie Hernandez and Alexis Paffumi to tie the game at 2-2.
“That was really important,” said Blakeman. “Without that hit, I don’t think the energy would have been as strong. (From) my previous at bats – I wanted to do better. That was my last at-bat to make up for it.”
The energy definitely carried over.
Next at bat, with two strikes against her, Alyssa Sanchez knocked one to center for an RBI, giving the Jaguars their first lead of the game at 3-2.
With Chryse Hausenfluck at bat, Sanchez stole second, then advanced to third after the ball was overthrown for the attempted out.
Desert Ridge would go on to finish the inning with two more RBIs off the bats of Hausenfluck and Courtney O’Brien.
The Jaguars managed their fifth and final run of the inning off an overthrown ball by the Tigers’ defense on an attempted out at first base.
It was late-game errors such as those, as well as mistimed base running and dropped fly balls, that that would prove damaging to the Tigers’ team.
“We made some mistakes that helped them out, they took advantage,” said Corona. “They had some big hits and started moving runners, and we didn’t respond.”
Desert Ridge head coach Jennifer Broderick says the team found what it needed at just the right time.
“We found that confidence in ourselves to get out there and keep swinging away, keep driving the ball forward,” she said.
The pitching from Desert Ridge’s Bailey Klitzke was equally devastating for the Tigers.
The freshman pitcher threw a full game, allowing just two runs while striking out seven batters.
“She did an awesome job on the mound for us,” said Broderick.
Sierra Cuestas scored twice for Marana – the first off an RBI from Casey Cadenhead, and the second off her own single-run homer in the bottom of the fourth.
Regardless of their elimination, the Tigers have more than enough reason to keep their chins up after finishing the season ranked seventh in the state with a 15-4 Division I record.
Marana was also one of the only teams in the state to defeat powerhouses Ironwood Ridge and Canyon Del Oro in the same season.
“They have nothing to be ashamed of – nothing,” said Corona. “It hurts for a while, and they’ll hurt for a while, but they’ll get over it. A lot of learning was done this year – great group of kids. Hard workers. Trusted each other. Trusted me.”
The Tigers will see seven returning players next year.
“We’ve got a good core,” said Corona. “Our pitchers are back, one of our big hitters is coming back, our catcher is coming back, and so some of those key positions we will have.”
Desert Ridge advanced to play Cienega (18-0) on May 1 with eight teams remaining. Desert Ridge beat Cienga 2-1 to advance.
• Only team to defeat Ironwood Ridge and Canyon Del Oro.
• Entered tournament as 7th seed in Division I.