It was the first championship appearance for No. 2 Yuma Catholic and the second for No. 12 Empire and, in the end, a little bit of experience proved the difference as the Ravens pulled away for a 10-2 win in the 3A state championshp held at Farrington Stadium on the ASU campus.
Yuma Catholic (18-8-1) came into the 3A Championship game riding a five game winstreak under second-year head coach Madison Miller (37-10-1). The streak was a small but important part of the most successful back-to-back seasons in Shamrock history. The Shamrocks made it to the Division IV quarterfinal round last year and followed that up with a dream season this year.
Even with the loss, there is a new attitude, a new philosophy of winning for the Shamrocks.
"We had the dedication and the heart from the players and the coaching staff," Miller said. "We are losing a few players but we have a taste of what's possible. We set the bar for next year but we know we can do it now."
Empire (26-9-1) was not supposed to be here if you look at the rankings, but the Ravens run-ruled No. 5 Winslow 13-2 in the first round, knocked off No. 4 Safford 4-1 in the quarterfinal round and stunned No. 1 River Valley 7-5 in the semifinals. Having won a state championship in 2015, fifth-year coach Shannon Woolridge had an idea of what to expect, as did nine players from that championship season, and that experience started to pay off early.
A Raven error in the bottom of the second allowed Natalie Hernadez to score from third base after the sophomore reached on a double earlier in the inning. The Ravens responded with four runs in the top of the third on a single by Hannah Brink followed by a walk issued to Emily Shreves. Noelle Kerr sacrificed both runners over and Emma Garbutt hit a shot to right.
Brink scored on Garbutt's fly and then Jayden Duncan bunted to score Shreves. Celine Pacheco hit her first double of the game and the Ravens were in command thee rest of the way, scoring four more in the sixth and two more in the seventh.
Jaden Romero (16-5) took the circle for the Ravens and she controlled from beginning to end, giving up two runs in the championship while striking out six.
"It was a team effort," Romero said. "I pitched most of the innings in the playoffs but I was just a small part of it really."
This was the second ring for Romero but this was was a lot sweeter.
"I played bench the first time," Romero added. "I really wanted this one."
The Ravens were led by Garbutt, who went 3-for-3. Brink went 2-3 and Pacheco had two doubles while Kailey Batterham hit a two-RBI double in the top of the seventh.
Alyssa Matus (12-3) took the circle for Yuma Catholic Jessica Padilla and Natalie Hernadez recorded doubles in the game. Hernandez also saw pitching action.