The fate of Saturday’s 5A elimination softball game between regional rivals Ironwood Ridge and Mountain View high schools came down to a series of singles.
The third-seeded Nighthawks (22-6) were able to thwart the Lions, 7-3, thanks to a three-run fourth inning that put Mountain View away for good.
The sixth-seeded Lions (19-10) fell behind early in Saturday’s contest, after Ironwood Ridge scored two runs on a first inning single by Rachel Hirschfeld.
Mountain View struck back in the top of the fourth, with a pair of RBI singles by Jessica Niegocki and Ceci Sandoval, tying the contest at two apiece.
The Nighthawks pounced, however, in their half of the inning, with Kayla Keith and Jaiden Reid combining to drive in three runs on a pair of singles.
Teammate Erica Baird knocked in the final run of the frame on a sacrifice fly to center, giving the Nighthawks a 6-2 edge.
The two sides traded runs in the fifth, with Jordy Vanderwerf of Mountain View and Hirschfeld knocking in a run apiece on a single and sacrifice fly, respectively.
The Nighthawks finished things off in the top of the seventh, with junior pitcher Shelby Thompson retiring the Lions to finish off a hard-earned victory.
Second-year Ironwood Ridge coach Dave Martinez expressed a mixture of relief and pride after the game came to a close, heaping praise on his players for their fight against the Lions.
“We’re alive,” he said. “We’re kicking, man. We still got a chance. Absolutely, we still got a chance, man. That’s all we’re asking for is an opportunity to get back and win one. That’s it.”
Martinez, whose team is off until Thursday, will play the loser of Tuesday’s Horizon-Willow Canyon contest at Rose Mofford Softball Complex in Phoenix.
He believes the team will be prepared to face either side later this week given how they’re playing right now.
“We’ve told the girls throughout the season that you can only really compete against the game, so sometimes it doesn’t really matter who you play,” Martinez said. “You’ve just got to beat the game, and so that’s the mindset we’re going to go into Thursday.”
For second-year Mountain View coach Ramon De La Ossa, Saturday’s hard-fought defeat does nothing to spoil a solid season.
De La Ossa expressed his own sense of pride in how the Lions never stopped fighting throughout the 5A tournament, helping the program gain valuable postseason experience in the process.
“I think they continued to battle back,” De La Ossa said. “You know we kept falling behind and falling behind and we had our opportunities. That’s what I kind of expressed to them today, that we definitely had our opportunities. A couple of clutch hits here and there and I think we would would’ve made it a lot closer if not overcame that deficit.”
De La Ossa believes his team benefitted in the postseason from their brutally tough non-sectional schedule, which pitted them against the best teams in the state.
“We’ve grown by leaps and bounds this season, for sure,” he said. “We played a very difficult schedule, against teams from Arizona and California, some of the best teams in the country. And I think it prepared us for these postseason games, and that’s what I wanted for them.”
For Martinez, Thursday’s contest against either Horizon or Willow Canyon will put the team’s newfound confidence to the test.
The key is to use the week’s practices to work on the little things, like hitting the strike zone consistently and fielding balls properly, to prepare for whoever they’ll face next.
“We’ve seen both teams in the Desert Mountain Tournament earlier in the year, so obviously they’ve improved,” he said. “Hopefully we’ve improved, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Elsewhere in the AIA State Softball Tournament, the Canyon Del Oro Dorados (19-6) have advanced to the 4A third round.
The sixth-seeded Dorados faced off against Cactus High School after deadline Tuesday at Rose Mofford.
The Dorados will either advance to Saturday’s semifinal round with a win, or face off against Vista Grande in Thursday’s elimination round.
In the 3A tournament, 14th seed Pusch Ridge Christian Academy defeated 11th seed Yuma Catholic, 8-5 Friday, May 3, before falling to Sabino, 3-0 on Saturday to end their season.
The first round of the 5A tournament kicked off Saturday, May 4, with third seed Mountain View beating 14th seed Horizon Honors in four sets.
The Lions took three of four, with set scores of 25-19, 21-25, 25-18 and 25-15 in the match. The Lions played sixth seed Salpointe Catholic after deadline on Tuesday, May 7.
The 12th-seeded Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks and 15th-seeded Catalina Foothills Falcons were the other local programs in the round of 16, with both losing their matches.
The Nighthawks fell to fifth seed Millennium in straight sets, while the Falcons fell to second seed Cienega in four sets.
The winners of Tuesday’s quarterfinal contests will play in the state semifinals Thursday, May 9, with each match held at Gilbert’s Highland High School.
The 5A finals will be held at 6:15 p.m. Saturday, May 11, with that match also taking place at Highland High School.