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24-team state brackets. The top 8 of each division will get a first-round bye. The final 8 teams in Division II will play in a double-elimination format while D-III and D-IV will play single elimination throughout the playoffs.
All of D-III and D-IV will be played at the Rose Mofford Complex in Phoenix while the high seed hosts the first two rounds of D-II.
The AIA will hosts a bracket show at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 1 and the playoffs will begin May 3.
Cienega, Canyon del Oro, Ironwood Ridge, Sabino and Sahuaro might all qualify for a first-round bye. The only question would be Sabino since they finish with a game at Cienega on Wednesday. Regardless, all are in.
Tucson High, Sunnyside and Marana are currently in the top 15 and should stay that way. Salpointe, ranked 20th, needs to beat Vista Grande (18) and Desert View (22) needs to beat Buena (36) to make sure they get in.
Cienega’s only loss was to Ironwood Ridge but that was back in early March when Ironwood Ridge was running strong. Cienega has big wins over CDO and Sahuaro and could beat Sabino. The Bobcats have to be considered the favorites due to pitching, hitting and fielding. Complete package.
Sahuaro is an enigma. Most in softball circles feel this group of athletes (combined with the one before it) should have won at least one state championship (if not more). With a team loaded with future college players, this could be it. Like Cienega, the Cougars have few if any weaknesses.
Ironwood Ridge was the early on favorite but a loss to Empire and then a loss to CDO puts them on equal footing with the other top teams listed. Head coach Rich Alday will have them ready. Like CDO, pitching depth may be an issue.
Sabino is solid but they have lost to all the major opponents. The playoffs may bring new life.
Spotlight: CDO’s ability to win in the late innings could serve them well if they don’t dig themselves too deep of a hole with pitching and errors. Had they lost to Salpointe, Marana, Vista Grande, Sunnyside and Ironwood Ridge the Dorados may not have even made the playoffs.
In the past, it was the arm of Kenzie Fowler combined with the bats of Fowler and Katie Asher that provided dramatic wins. Even though Fowler and Asher batted back-to-back in the lineup, opponents were stubborn and refused to walk them.
That mistake in strategy was best illustrated in Cienega’s 2-1 loss to the Dorados in 2008 with the duo hitting back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the 6th inning for the win. CDO went on to win the state title.
Then came Kayla Bonstrom. During her senior year in 2012, Bonstrom hit 7 homeruns in 7 playoff games including a 2-run shot to win the state championship (she finished with 16). The only coach who was willing to understand Bonstrom’s presence was former Ironwood Ridge coach Randy Anway. Anway intentionally walked Bonstrom almost every chance he had.
Now, it’s the duo of Samantha Nettling and Mackenzie Sullivan that pitchers have to be aware of. Nettling has taken on the Bonstrom aura this spring. Her will to win cannot be underestimated. But will it be enough in the playoffs?
Empire and Tanque Verde should get a first-round bye. Tanque Verde beat Empire Tuesday night. If Morenci wins on Wednesday then all three teams will share a section championship.
Benson and Nogales are in while Thatcher (20), Rio Rico (24) and Santa Cruz (25) will be sweating it out.
The division should be won by either Empire or Tanque Verde.
San Manuel, St. David, Desert Christian and Valley Union are the tops with San Manuel the odds on favorite to win it all again this year and next year.
The other teams in the playoffs would be Bisbee, St. Gregory, Pusch Ridge and Academy of Tucson.
Andy Morales has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on the pages of the Vail Voice. Contact Andy Morales at AMoralesMyTucson@yahoo.com