The Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks softball team unleashed a torrent of offense in the early innings of their Tuesday afternoon clash with Marana.
The Nighthawks (18-2, 7-0) scored multiple runs in each of the team’s four turns at-bat, propelling the home side to a 13-6 victory over their regional rivals.
Tuesday’s victory for coach Dave Martinez’s squad was the end result of an egalitarian offensive approach, with several players providing key hits in the contest.
Senior shortstop Diana Nisbett was the first Nighthawk to jump on Marana starting pitcher Leila Rouhani, driving a pitch into the alley for a two-run double.
The hits kept coming from there, with teammates Erica Baird and Emma Almodoba driving in runs for the Nighthawks.
The biggest blow of the day came off the bat of left-handed hitting Jaiden Reid, who smoked a two-run home run over the right-center field fence in a five-run fourth inning for Ironwood Ridge.
Martinez praised his players for their ability to put a talented Tigers squad away thanks to their offensive prowess. He was pleased with his team’s effort, even though they allowed the Tigers to rally a bit in the fifth inning, with Marana scoring five runs in the frame.
“We did a good job early in the game, and just like I told the girls here, we kind of took an inning off, and we can't do that,” Martinez said. “We can't afford to let teams back in the game or let them think that they're back in the game. And so, all in all, it was a good win.”
Martinez, whose team is in the midst of a nine-game winning streak, said such a streak can pose issues for players, if they lose the drive that got them to this point in the season.
“We talked about here at the end of the game was just making sure that we stay mentally focused,” Martinez said. “They're kids. They're young, and it's been a long season; we're here six days a week, and it starts to drag on them physically. So, that's why, again, we stress to stay mentally focused so that the physical doesn't break down.”
On the other side of the diamond, Marana coach George Corona addressed the Tigers’ recent slide.
The Tigers (8-9, 2-6), have lost back-to-back games, to Sunnyside (9-1) and Ironwood Ridge, which Corona chalks up to his team’s lack of focus defensively.
Corona knows that his team has the offensive mettle to contend for a playoff berth in a stacked 5A division, but said his players continue to make costly mistakes in the field.
“We were kind of up and down all year,” Corona said. “It kind of goes the way our defense goes. When we play good defense, we have a tendency to stay in games. We score enough runs, but defensively, we’re up and down.”
Corona’s team enters the final stretch of the regular season ranked 18th in 5A, as of Wednesday morning.
They have games against Buena and Cienega at home, before playing Nogales on the border and Rincon/University at home to close the regular season.
Corona knows what his team will have to do to make the playoffs this spring, with four winnable games to close out the regular season. He’s hopeful Tuesday’s offensive firepower, which included a three-hit performance by Lanaya Wright and multi-hit outings for Ashley Fields and Destiny Vazquez, can pave the way for the team’s playoff push.
“We have to win a few games here; I think we have to probably win three to get in would be my guess,” Corona said. “We know that for sure. We're looking at three victories to have a chance to get in. To do that we have to do better job of defending. That's what will be working on the next couple days.
Martinez’s team finds itself ranked third overall in Wednesday’s 5A standings, with road games against Sunnyside, Gilbert and Cienega remaining, as well as a home clash against Buena on Tuesday, April 16.
Martinez believes this year’s squad has a chance to go a step farther than a year ago, when IRHS lost to Cienega in the 5A state final.
His confidence comes from the team’s ability to mix the business of winning with the pleasure of teamwide camaraderie, a rare combo in the high school game.
“They’re such a fun group,” Martinez said. “They’re goofy, they’re loose; they’re fun to be around. That’s probably what I enjoy most, is that they’re fun to be around. They work really hard, don’t get me wrong, but they have fun, and that’s super important.”