The softball rankings won’t be release until April 2 but the playoff picture is already beginning to get in focus. Only two teams from each of the sections in Division II will get an automatic bid to the state playoffs. That means 12 in and 12 fighting for an at-large bid to the 24-team bracket. (Sec. 5 & 7 will only get one automatic bid).
Although teams have yet to start sectional play, divisional play has already begun and teams such as Ironwood Ridge and Sabino have made the biggest statements so far with the obvious nod to the Nighthawks for defeating traditional powers Cienega and Sahuaro.
Ina coaching carousel, Joe Crane moved over from Santa Rita to take over at Sabino after Jeff Fowler left Sabino to take the Sahuaro position. And, as first reported here, legendary Pima and New Mexico baseball coach Rich Alday came out of retirement to take over the Ironwood Ridge softball position after Randy Anway retired.
Besides coaching a much shorter game than baseball and a dugout filled with songs rather than banter, Alday has not missed a beat and has the Nighthawks (7-2) ready to take over the position as Southern Arizona’s top program.
Ironwood Ridge pulled off a 3-2 win over Cienega last Friday, three days after the Bobcats had made their own statement by defeating Canyon del Oro 9-4 and Sahuaro (3-2-1) continued their difficult start of the season by falling 6-4 to Ironwood Ridge on Tuesday and after dropping a 12-2 game to CDO last week.
The Nighthawks scored first on an unearned run to go up 1-0 in the bottom of the first. Merilee Miller reached on a lead-off single and Reina Bondi followed that with another hit. Sahuaro pitcher Andie Larkins was able to pick up an out but an error scored Miller from second base.
It didn’t take long for the Cougars to tie things up when Amy Pacheco lifted a ball over the left field fence to lead off the top of the second. Ironwood Ridge plated two more in the bottom of the third with Lexi Adelberg scoring Loriann Olson and Miller on a double down the first base line.
Down 3-1, Amanda Nicholas hit a 2-run homer in the top of the fourth to tie it back up 3-3 but Emily Robinson kept Sahuaro off the scoreboard in the fifth and sixth. Robinson got some offensive help in the bottom of the fifth after the Nighthawks came up with two straight hits from Bondi and Adelberg and a 3-run shot from Erin Rocker to make it 6-3.
Sahuaro made one last attempt to get back in the game with Amy Bergeson and Ariana Gomez reaching with no outs. Larkins brought in Bergeson one out later to make it 6-4 but Robinson held the rest of the way for the win.
Sahuaro and Ironwood Ridge are both headed to the Scottsdale Desert Mountain invitational next week.
Bergeson went 2-4 for Sahuaro, Gomez and Hannah Gradillas picked up a hit each, Pacheco had her homerun as did Nicholas. Misenhimer had a single and so did Madison Wiley.
For Ironwood Ridge, Miller went 3-5, Bondi went 2-4, Adelberg went 2-3 with a double, Rocker had a 3 RBI homerun, and Olson went 2-3.