Nighthawks improve to 11-1
Maddie Judge made a break on a dying popup in the late innings of Ironwood Ridge High School’s game against Catalina Foothills High School last Friday.
The freshman second baseman, who has only made one fielding error in 11 games, read the ball perfectly, sprawling out onto the hard-dirt infield to reach the ball.
She grabbed the grapefruit-sized, bright yellow ball, then realized that the runner on second failed to tag-up, allowing her to turn an unassisted double play to end the inning.
That play, which came with the bases loaded in a 5-3 ballgame, was the deciding moment of the day, with the Nighthawks escaping with another win, improving to 11-1 on the young season.
First-year Coach Dave Martinez, who’s guided the Nighthawks forward with steadfast confidence and fatherly assurance, loved what he saw from his players in a gutsy game against the Falcons.
“I enjoyed the game just simply because of the energy in the dugout, energy on the field,” Martinez said. “We had talked to the girls about that. We had been playing some games where we just like dragging. And even though we won games with big scores, we didn’t really enjoy the game.”
Friday’s win was an antidote of joy for Martinez and his players, racing out to a 5-0 lead after two innings, before having to hold on for dear life down the stretch.
The Nighthawks, who’ve outscored opponents to the tune of 130-32 in their first 11 games, got everything they could handle from an opponent that entered the day with a 7-6 record.
For Martinez, it’s nice to win games with ease, but it’s even better to enter the crux of the season knowing your players are battle-tested and capable in close games.
He believes that clutch plays, such as Judge’s snag at second, or the phenomenal pitching from sophomore southpaw Shelby Thompson, are the driving force behind championship-caliber teams.
“We’re lucky we see that every day at practice,” Martinez said of Judge’s defense. “She’s very good. She puts time into it. You know we talk about making routine plays and if you need to make the great play, you’ll make it. And that’s what she did. It’s make routine plays and if you need a big time play Maddie is there to make the play.”
Martinez is thrilled by the effort turned in by his most experienced players, like Morgan Reidhead, Izzy Pacho and Jaiden Reid—who all drove in runs against the Falcons.
The trio, led by Pacho, are all hitting at or above .375 this season. Pacho’s hitting .636 so far, Reid is hitting .514 and Reidhead is hitting .390.
Martinez is impressed by his team’s effort this season but knows they’re in for a long spring of tough competition and gut-wrenching on-field drama.
“That’s the thing; the games will be more and more competitive, we have got to keep the energy up and pitch like we’ve done,” Martinez said. “We’ve done a good job with our pitchers and get timely hits, as the games get tighter and tighter we’ve got to come up with the play.”
He’s hopeful that the team’s timely hitting, combined with the surge in pitching depth that Thompson brings, can be a winning combination.
“Well usually we’re pretty far ahead in score so when it gets to games like this you really have to learn to make all the good plays and get the timely hits, which we did today,” Martinez said.
For Judge, this year’s team has the chance to go much further than last year’s squad, which went 22-13, but lost in the first round of the state playoffs.
“We are definitely doing a lot better than last year,” Judge said. “We have a better chance than we did last year, and it’s been a really good group of girls. We’re all really close this year and we think it’s a good year.”
The Nighthawks are on the road this week, traveling to Scottsdale to participate in the Desert Mountain Invitational.