5A softball championship: Ironwood Ridge over Centennial 5-2

May 14, 2019 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365

(Andy Morales/AZPreps365.com)

Sunrise Mountain ended the regular season 18-0, earning the Mustangs the top-seed in the 5A softball playoffs. The 18 wins included a season-ending sweep of No. 2 Centennial to win the 5A Northwest Region by two full games over the Coyotes so it was easy to see how this was supposed to be the year of the Mustangs but, instead, No. 3 Ironwood Ridge battled through four elimination games to reach the final where the Nighthawks beat No. 2 Centennial 5-2 Monday night at ASU to capture the state championship.

No. 16 Sunnyslope came through with the upset of the year when the Vikings beat Sunrise Mountain 6-4 in the first round of the state playoffs. The Vikings finished 3-7 in the 5A Northwest Region but that upset flipped the bracket and the 5A playoffs suddenly became anyone’s game. Sure, No. 2 and No. 3 were the last two teams standing, but it wasn’t that easy.

Centennial (21-7) had a nearly unblemished path to the final but a 10-0 run-rule victory over No. 15 Millennium in the first round was followed by a slim 4-2 victory over No. 7 Mountain View Marana in the second round. An 11-1 run-rule victory over No. 6 Empire in the third round was followed by a 2-0 loss to that same Empire squad in the semifinals, forcing an “if game” under the double-elimination rules of the tournament.

Centennial turned around and run-ruled the Ravens 10-0 to make it to the championship game where the Coyotes lost to the Nighthawks. The “up and down” run by the Coyotes had run its full course.

Ironwood Ridge (26-6) struggled to beat No. 14 Ironwood 5-3 in the first round and then Empire sent the Nighthawks to the elimination bracket by beating the team 8-2 in the second round. Ironwood Ridge beat Mountain View 7-3 in the first elimination game and the Nighthawks stayed alive by taking out No. 9 Willow Canyon 3-1 in the next elimination game to set up a do-or-die battle with No. 5 Horizon in the semifinal round.

The Nighthawks seemed to struggle in the early rounds of the playoffs but the team exploded with an 8-1 win over Horizon in the first game and then 14-4 in the “if game” to advance to the state final. 

@CeHSathletics standout Mariah Lopez looks be right back next year #AzPreps365 pic.twitter.com/jLiLlFIXyG

— Andy Morales (@AZPreps365Andy) May 14, 2019

The Nighthawks jumped out to a 1-0 lead over Centennial in the top of the first on an unearned run and then Diana Nisbett put the Nighthawks up 2-0 on a home run in the third inning. That margin would hold until Dren Meginnis singled in the bottom of the fourth and then scored on an error to cut the lead down to 2-1.

Hailey Galvez tied the game up in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single to score Jaydin Gonzalez.

Sydnie Sahhar (12-3) got the start for the Coyotes and Meghan Golden (4-1) took the circle in the third inning. On the other side, Shelby Thomson (14-2) went the distance but she was tested by Centennial in the bottom of the sixth.

Sahhar led off with a single and Mackenzie Celaya singled one out later to put two on for Centennial. Alex Thiel sacrificed the runners to scoring positions but Thompson picked up a strikeout to close that door.

The Nighthawks survived that scare and Keira Painter led off the top of the seventh with a single to regain momentum. Kayla Keith followed with a double to the fence and the speedy Painter scored easily to make it 3-2. Maddie Toia came in to run for Keith and Reid reached on an error to put two on with no outs. Toia scored on attempted pickoff at third that got away to make it 4-2.

@IRHSSoftball standout Diana Nisbett big game. Headed to play for England this summer #AzPreps365 pic.twitter.com/Gp45HtQS1C

— Andy Morales (@AndyMorales8) May 14, 2019

Nisbett came up again and she doubled in the final runner in to make it 5-2. Golden picked up two outs and she gave way to Mariah Lopez (2-1) and Lopez closed out the inning with a strikeout. Lopez transferred over to Centennial after pitching Cienega to back-to-back state championships as a freshman and a sophomore. Coincidently, Lopez beat Centennial in an epic 12-inning semifinal battle last year. With Sahhar graduating, Golden and Lopez will be difficult to beta neat spring.

Thompson got three outs to close out the championship in the bottom of the seventh.

Nisbett finished the game 3-for-4 with a home run, double and two RBI and the senior will now turn her focus to playing for Britain in international competition this summer. Keith finished 2-4 with a double and an RBI.

For Centennial, Galvez picked up the lone RBI.

@CeHSathletics head coach Randy Kaye talks about his squad #AzPreps365 pic.twitter.com/HntMnJWiZ0

— Andy Morales (@AZPreps365Andy) May 14, 2019

Third-year coach Randy Kaye returned the Coyotes to the level of play seen in the Bartt Underwood era that included a state title in 2010 and four runner-up finishes. He graduates seven seniors but the program appears to be in the positive reload phase now.

David Martinez is now in his second year at the helm of the Nighthawks and he reached the state final in both years, giving the Nighthawks their third state trophy since 2014. Martinez loses eight seniors to graduation but the program hasn’t had a down year in a decade so expect another run next year.

@AmphiSchools @IRHSSoftball Dave Martinez reflects on his championship team #AzPreps365 pic.twitter.com/3QmhJTafDc

— Andy Morales (@AndyMorales8) May 14, 2019