First round softball tournament breakdown
Crazy schedules, mystery formulas (though there are a few head-scratchers of schools which didn’t get into the top 24, in this case it appears to have worked out respectably across the four divisions) and daily deliberations are done. Now, like it or not (for the most part we like it), it’s time for postseason play.
Here’s the schedule for the first two rounds of the softball state tournaments, both of which are “elimination” rounds. Win or go home, as they say.
A quick look at a few of the more interesting first-round action among East Valley participants:
No. 17 Perry at No. 16 Corona del Sol: A rematch of last year’s first-round state tournament matchup, won by Perry. Beyond Pumas coach Kevin Chapin having spent a couple years as a Corona del Sol assistant under Aztecs coach Jeep Ray, it’s a good matchup of pitchers: McKenna Isenberg for Corona and Jillian Leslie for Perry. Can Isenberg, who throws about as hard as anyone in the Valley, handle Perry’s deep lineup? This is certainly one of the best first-round matchups regardless of division. Though hardly an obituary based on how evenly matched all these schools have played one another in the regular season, the potential bad news all-around being the winner has to play at No. 1 Mountain Ridge.
No. 20 Desert Vista at No. 12 Xavier: Another good pitching matchup. The Thunder may be No. 20 in the rankings, but have a legitimate No. 1 in Danielle Block. Xavier loves to play “small ball” and force the issue, and gets good run production in the middle from Katie Park and the Gators have a couple freshman pitchers with good potential both presently and especially in the coming years. The other curiosity will be whether D.V. can adjust to this uptick in competition. Chris Crowl’s team played some tough teams in the first half of the schedule (power rankings games and tournaments), but outside a couple games, the month of April wasn’t a big grind. That could be a good thing or backfire a bit. This one should be a close one if Desert Vista’s defense can withstand the pressure it’ll face from Xavier offensively. Similar to Perry/Corona, the winner here has to play at No. 4 Gilbert in the second round, a big-time undertaking.
No. 24 Kofa at No. 9 Desert Mountain: The Wolves were among the hottest teams in the state for the final few weeks of the season. Senior pitcher Andy Wellins is on the verge of breaking (more) school records and what was once a young Desert Mountain lineup/defense has figured itself out nicely. The Wolves’ only two losses since the Desert Mountain tournament (late March) were against Mountain View, and that includes wins against Horizon, Chaparral, a good Pinnacle lineup and Deer Valley. The Wolves are favored here, but it’s kind of a bummer that a second-round matchup would be against No. 8 Horizon in another elimination game.
No. 23 Highland at No. 10 Desert Ridge: Highland was a few places out of the playoff picture (moreso because No. 24 was going to be taken by an automatic bid from Section 1), but then Highland smacked around No. 3 Basha, 8-2, on Wednesday. Boom! The Hawks zoom up six spots. The Hawks have dealt with a slew of injuries and one of the most difficult schedules in Division I, so while a case can be made the record wasn’t “tournament worthy” you can also argue their competition was much more difficult than most. Desert Ridge won the schools’ meetings this year, 7-1, on April 18 and 3-1 on April 23. The Jaguars’ freshman Bailey Klitzke has been a huge part of the team’s success this season (13-4 with 2.24 ERA) and a balance, if un-spectacular lineup and defense have been pretty consistent all season. There’s a chance this matchup could be more difficult than whomever faces No. 7 Marana in the second round.
No. 17 Casa Grande at No. 16 Queen Creek: Casa Grande has been inside the top 15 in power rankings most of the season, with a schedule featuring several Div. I schools and a few wins in there (notably against Hamilton which might have kept the Huskies out of the tournament). Queen Creek has lost once in the month of April (by one run to Campo Verde) and beat Seton Catholic and Williams Field along the way. The Bulldogs have had their struggles at times defensively and mentally, and yet, they’re back hosting a playoff game yet again. The winner gets No. 1 Sunrise Mountain, and they’re a legitimate No. 1. Yikes.
No. 23 Seton Catholic at No. 10 Sahuaro: It was a little nerve-wracking at times for Seton Catholic, which squeezed into the state tournament despite a pretty gaudy record (15-3) because its strength of schedule was among the bottom couple schools in Div. II. Of course, most of that schedule was pre-determined by the computers so don’t blame the Sentinels, which played lots of Div. I and elite Div. II teams in various tournaments to see more difficult competition. Losses to Maricopa, Williams Field and, most recently, Queen Creek dropped the Sentinels. They’ll have to contend with pitcher Brooklyn Beardshear on the mound for Sahuaro as well as the Tucson’s schools speed. Sahuaro beat Seton 11-0 in the Desert Mtn. tournament, but the Sentinels were using a variety of players so it’s best not to put too much stock into that outcome. Still, Sahuaro is tested against the best Tucson and Valley schools in Div. II, and they’ve won several of those tests. They’re good.