5A Softball: Empire beat Ironwood Ridge 8-2; Ironwood Ridge boys volleyball earns playoff spot

May 3, 2019 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365

Aly Nava is welcomed home. (Andy Morales/AZPreps365.com)

It was a playoff double header at Ironwood Ridge with the softball team dropping an 8-2 decision to Empire in the second round of the 5A bracket and the boys volleyball team surviving a scare from Pueblo in the 5A Play-In Tournament.

No. 6 Empire (29-2) made it to the semifinal round of the 3A softball playoffs last year but the Ravens were moved to the 5A Conference over the summer. The team has two championships in the lower level since 2015, with the latest coming in 2017, so there was some concern that came with the move up to the “bigger schools” this year. It appears that concern was mostly unwarranted since the program is now guaranteed a top-six finish in their new alignment.

No. 3 Ironwood Ridge (21-5) was the 5A state runner-up last year but the Nighthawks will have to battle out of the elimination bracket to get back to where they were before. The loss to Empire sets up a high-stakes game with Mountain View Marana (19-9) on Saturday afternoon at Amphitheater High School.

Vanessa Brink (15-2) collected 11 strikeouts against Ironwood Ridge which left the Nighthawks with little opportunity for any kind of offense. Takiya Hill put the Ravens up 1-0 on a solo shot to lead off the top of the second inning. Reagan Grossi reached on an error one out later ad she moved to third on a double off the bat of Lynae Doty and Celine Pacheco singled her home to make it 2-0.

The Nighthawks got one back in the bottom of the third with a home run from Diana Nisbett. The 2-1 score lasted until the top of the fifth when the Ravens added three more runs and Aly Nava connected on a 2-run homer in the seventh to help extend the Empire lead to 8-1. Keira Painter picked up an RBI in the bottom of the seventh for the 8-2 final.

Empire is slated to play No. 2 Centennial (18-5) in the third round on May 7.

Moving indoors to boys volleyball, No. 12 Ironwood Ridge hosted No. 21 Pueblo for a shot at the 5A state playoffs and the 3-1 final proved more difficult than that score would indicate.

The Nighthawks cruised to a 25-12 win in the first set but the Warriors regrouped to take the second set 25-18. Ironwood Ridge jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the third set but the Warriors slowly closed the gap until both teams tied at 20-20.

A service error gave Ironwood Ridge a brief 21-20 lead but Pueblo cashed in on an opportunity to make it 21-21. Connor Weirman set Andrew Reinholz up twice and then Jonah Semon served up an ace to make it 24-21. The Warriors responded by making things close again.

Jonah Semon set Cameron Fimbres and then Fimbres picked up an ace of his own to cut the lead down to 24-23 but the Nighthawks were able to pull out the 25-23 victory to go up 2-1. In the fourth and deciding set, the Nighthawks once again built an early 7-2 lead but the Warriors climbed back in and the score got to 20-20 and 22-22.

Jackson Lemme came up with back-to-back blocks to make it 24-22 but Fimbres took another Lopez offering to make it 24-23. Another service error handed the match to Ironwood Ridge.

Weirman had 22 assists in the match and Lemme had nine kills for Ironwood Ridge. Julian Lopez had 19 assists Fimbres finished with 14 kills.

The 16-team boys volleyball bracket will be streamed live at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, May 3.

(Vanessa Brink/AZPreps365.com)