Empire softball coach Shannon Woolridge didn't know where to focus in assessing a most valuable player in the 12th-seeded Ravens' 7-5 victory Saturday over top-seed River Valley in the 3A semifinals at Rose Mofford Sports Complex.
So he endorsed "team effort". Fair enough.
Mulitiple offensive, defensive and pitching kudos were part of the win advancing Empire to its second title game in three years. The Ravens face No. 2 Yuma Catholic on Tuesday May 9 at 5 p.m. at ASU's Farrington Stadium in search of a second championship (their first in the sport was 2015). River Valley's season ended in the semifinals for the second year in a row.
Empire took command early and held tough. The Ravens scored in each of the first five innings with its largest lead 4-0 in the top of the third and 6-3 in the top of 5. Both times River Valley came back to cut the margins to 4-3 and 7-5.
Woolridge's gut decisions in the third and fifth innings proved right. Starting and winning pitcher Jaden Romero wasin command for two innings with the 4-0 lead, but five batters in a row reached in the third. The lead was down to one and Woolridge summoned Emylee Perry to take over in the circle. Perry wiggled out of the inning with the help of a 5-2-3 double play initiated by Anabel Ramirez.
Perry was effective into the fifth inning when she allowed four consecutive hitters to reach. Woolridge had Romero re-enter and the junior responded getting the final two outs of the inning. Romero retired the last eight batters in a row to earn Empire its berth in the final.
Ramirez was the hitting start going 3-for-3 with 3 RBI (a sacrifice fly and two-run single). Catcher Emma Garbutt, who delivered the 3-run double that beat Safford 4-1 in the quarterfinals, homered in the first inning to get Empire off on the right foot. Temmates Emily Shreves and McKenzie Kirkland checked in with two hits each.
Garbutt's alert cover of third base on a sacrifce bunt in the fifth inning lessened River Valley's rally that inning netting a big out.
The play of the game went to Empire center fielder Jadyn Duncan, who reached over the fence in center to take away a home run from River Valley's Winona Castillo in the fourth. Duncan fell over the pliable fence, but held on for the catch.
Empire collected 10 hits off River Valley ace Regan Glenn, who finished giving up all the runs and four of them earned. She fanned a subpar five (for her). Shanya Marquez had two of River Valley's five hits and knocked in two runs. Ashley Carter and Tianna Williams also had RBI for River Valley.
YUMA CATHOLIC 3, SABINO 0: The Shamrocks (17-8-1) Alyssa Matus tossed a two-hitter and the game's only runs against the Sabercats (18-9) came home on an outfield miscue with two outs in the third inning in the other 3A semifinal at Rose Mofford.
Matus walked two and fanned six. Sabino's Danielle Kirchhofer nearly matched Matus allowing three hits, two walks with six Ks.