Softball: Several D-I teams off to fast start in 2016

March 3, 2016 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

Most of the big schools -- Division I and Division II -- opened the 2016 softball season competing in invitiationals and several came away looking pretty good. Five to focus on briefly as play convenes Thursday (March 3) are Desert Ridge, Pinnacle, Mountain Ridge, Sandra Day O'Connor and Red Mountain.

Desert Ridge, coached by Jen Broderick, began its season at the Lion Country Classic hosted by Red Mountain and Skyline high schools. Desert Ridge won all seven games and won the tournament edging Corona del Sol, 3-2, in the title game. The Jaguars moved to 8-0 taking its first power-ranking game over Queen Creek on Tuesday. 

Freshman pitcher Shaylee Ackerman has contributed heavily in Desert Ridge's fabulous beginning. Pitching well in many of the games and blasting four home runs. Senior Bailey Klitzke and junior Leah Molina have batted better than .600 and catcher Sydney Broderick is hitting at a ,500 clip. The Jaguars have won tight, low-scoring games and a couple slugfests.

Pinnacle, led by former Xavier Prep coach Bobby Pena, is 6-1. The Pioneers were runner-up at last weekend's Sunrise Mountain Invitational, losing in the title game to Xavier. Pitching has been better than superb. Junior CC Cook and sophomore Marissa Schuld have shared the duties. Cook is 4-0 with 0.64 ERA and has 41 strikeouts in 22 innings. Schuld is 2-1 with a 1.03 ERA and 35 Ks in 20 innings.

Last year's D-I runner-up, Mountain Ridge, has about half its starting lineup back from last year's runner-up finish and is 7-1. Senior pitcher-firstbaseman Giselle Juarez is as good as ever in the circle. Juarez has 62 Ks in five starts and is averaging 12 Ks per start.

Also performing well is defending D-I champ Sandra Day O'Connor at 7-2. The Eagles have the tag-team pitching staff of Brooke Brown, Emma Vesely and Stevie McLemore back that aren't overpowering, but confound opponents. This is the third year they've ganged up on opponents. Junior Hayley Busby and sophomore shortsop Grace Lyons are leading the offense for coach Melissa Hobson.

Red Mountain is 7-1 and its only loss prevented it from playing in the title game of its Lion Country Classic. Red Mountain finished third, besting Gilbert. Red Mountain's lone loss was to Corona del Sol and the Lions avenged that with its first-power ranking win on Tuesday -- 5-2 over the Aztecs. Red Mountain's offense has been prolific thus far led by Lyndsay Steverson, Sierra Davis, Matisen Onofrei, Kaden Bullock and Alyssa Honneywell. The Lions are using junior Mya Davis and freshman Alayna Hicks to do the bulk of their pitching.

Xavier lost one game in the Sunrise Mountain Invitational, but rallied back to win the tournament and sports a 6-1 record heading into today's game with Boulder Creek. Emily Richards has led the pitching staff and is the top hitting starter at .524 thus far. She is 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA. Other offensive standouts are Megan Donahey (.519), Marie Funes (.478) and Becky Ducar (.423). Caitlyn Dickman is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA and is just under .400 hitting. Xavier, coached by Carrie Markahm, will dedicate its softball press box at Petznick Field tonight in the name of Sister Nancy Perlick, the longtime assistant AD and voice at athletic events for the Gators. Perlick passed away in December.