Oree Foster
Staff Writer, AZPreps365.com

Softball: Strong pitching, solid defense are keys for St. Michael Lady Cardinals

May 2, 2019 by Oree Foster, AZPreps365

Strong pitching and solid defense are the keys to St. Michael Lady Cardinals' success this year on the softball diamond.

No. 5 ranked Lady Cardinals completed the regular season 23-5, more importantly finished with an unblemished 6-0 mark in 1A North Region action.

St. Michael posted a 5-2 win over the Hayden Lady Lobos in the first round of the state tournament. St. Michael freshman pitcher Gabriella Simpson struck out 13 batters.

St. Michael faces the Williams Vikings, 16-12, on Friday at 6 p.m. in the state quarterfinals at Rose Mofford Softball Complex in Phoenix.

St. Michael head coach Karen Tom said the Lady Cardinals' offense has stepped up, improving during each ball game.

"I am proud of the connection our team has made against top pitchers we've seen throughout our season, namely Mogollon's ace pitcher and Window Rock's Rachael Smiley," Tom said. "Those pitchers have great movement and speed. We were still able to make adjustments and connect to get on base. I think our batting will definitely connect as we get into the state tournament against top teams. In our area,Window Rock's program is top notched. Our ability to give them a good game is a great measure of state competition."

Tom credits the Lady Cardinals' defense for backing up pitchers, while making key outs.

"We have a young team," Tom explained. "Our defense has done a superb job at backing up our pitchers and making sure they make the plays to get the outs. Earlier in the season, our mistakes and errors were on fundamental mistakes, like overthrowing, misjudging fly balls and fumbling the ball. In this post season, we are working the double plays and picking off runners on base."

Tom said St. Michael's pitching staff are young, but are anything but inexperienced.

"They've (young pitching staff) all grown accustomed to playing before big crowds and having pressure put on them," Tom said. "They (Gabriella Simpson and Maya Ross) both have played year around in different league organization. Their presence on the field is at a comfortable level, regardless of pressure. They know how to have fun and how to be focused when they need to be." Tom said during the course of the season, she didn't have the opportunity to see many 1A teams play. Tom said she saw Superior play Holbrook and Window Rock play Ray. Tom said Superior and Ray are 1A powerhouses, as both teams have won state championships before."

Tom said last year, St. Michael beat Anthem Prep, 7-6, in the first round. The Lady Cardinals were ousted from the state tournament by Superior in the state quarterfinals.

"The (state tournament) experience itself lit the fire of competition for us," Tom said. "We told ourselves we would be back next year."

Earlier this season, St. Michael beat some 3A and 4A schools and has given the Lady Cardinals confidence..

"The wins has opened our eyes to the talents that worked together for the good of the team," Tom said. "Overall, playing bigger schools has taught us that we possess the talent and hard work that it takes to become a powerhouse for softball. It feels wonderful to coach these young ladies and help them believe in themselves."

Tom said St. Michael is capable of winning a state championship. She said the Lady Cardinals need to work hard and work together. She said one person cannot win the game.

Tom said she told the Lady Cardinals. "Team work is the key. They need to come out strong early in the innings and keep working hard to stop every ball on defense and connect at bat. Mentally, they just need to want it more than anything else. As young players, their only downfall may be their inability to understand that when they're seniors, they may be setting foot on that field for the last time. Their presence at the state tournament should fuel them to try harder than they ever have. It's a very mature concept to grasp."