3A Softball preview

May 1, 2019 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365

Sabino's Danielle Kirchhofer. (Andy Morales/AZPreps365.com)

Sahuarita came into the 2018 3A softball playoffs ranked No. 11 but the Mustangs eliminated No. 6 Payson 4-2 in eight innings in the first round, beat No. 3 Show Low 10-2 in the quarterfinals, run ruled No. 7 Empire 14-4 in the semifinal round and dispatched No. 5 Winslow 10-4 in the championship game. The playoff run by Sahuarita was reminiscent of the one displayed by Empire the year before when the 12th seeded Ravens went on to blitz No. 2 Yuma Catholic 10-2 to win the 2017 state title but things are a bit different now.

For one, Empire moved to the 5A Conference and Sahuarita is ranked No. 9 and Winslow is No. 1. Winslow is 15-2 in power-ranking games with the two losses coming to No. 3 Payson and No. 4 Snowflake.

“Jordyn Johnson and Justine Butterfield are the incredible pitching staff that keep us in the game,” head coach Kelli Fifelski said. “Big bats in the lineup include Maycee Cunningham, Jordyn Johnson, Adrianna Yazzie and Chloe Wilcox. The defense has made some incredible catches and our catcher, Brooke Williams, has caught many girls stealing.”

The Bulldogs avenged both of those region losses heading into the playoffs and one has to wonder if avenging the state championship loss to Sahuarita Friday night is something weighing heavily on their minds.

Sahuarita head coach Chris Fanning returns with a loaded squad and he lists his key players as Hailey Tanori, Solymar Navarro, Kianna Galindo, Paityn Arrington, Leah Salas and Gracie Mejia. Sahuarita (17-3) may have lost three games this year but two of those came against 5A powers Empire and Cienega so the low ranking might be a bit misleading.

No. 2 River Valley was the top seed last year but the Dust Devils lost to Winslow 12-2 in the semifinal round. The two programs were scheduled to play each other again this year but the February 3 rematch was cancelled. Since both teams are on opposite ends of the bracket, the two would have to meet in the championship game to play again.

River Valley (16-0) is going up against No. 7 Sabino (17-2) in the quarterfinals. The Sabercats have outscored their last three opponents 47-0 heading into the game against River Valley but first-year head coach Kathleen Watson hopes to have the Dust Devils get beyond the semifinal round after three straight losses in that round.

“Consistency is key and we have worked to be in every inning,” Watson said. “Sophomore Chloe Hibbard has been key in our defense on the mound, Tianna Williams has been a consistent bat in the lineup. Kortney Fletcher and Ryann Glenn have provided power to the lineup.”

No. 3 Payson (15-5) was eliminated by No. 14 Pusch Ridge in the first round so Snowflake (16-4) is the next highest ranked team at No. 4 and the Lobos will be going up against No. 5 Show Low (12-6) in the quarterfinals. The two teams are in the same region and the squads spilt their series against each other this year.

“We have three players of note,” Snowflake head coach Aaron Huish explained. “Kaylee Thomas, Sydney Bauer and Anna Berger. As for our team, we have a mix of underclassmen and seniors that are role players trying to help the team win.”

As mentioned before, Snowflake was eliminated in the first round last year and Show Low was eliminated in the quarterfinals but there is a guaranteed seminal spot available for the winner.

Pusch Ridge (14-6) will be playing No. 11 Yuma Catholic (15-2) in the last quarterfinal game in the bracket. Both squads failed to escape the Play-In Tournament last year.

“Faith Sandoval has stepped up this year on the mound, pitching more innings than intended, and also shutting down first base when off the mound,” said Yuma Catholic head coach Madison Miller. Miller also lists Natalie Hernandez, Jocelyn Hernandez and Kayla Browning on her list of key players.