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DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Monday, May 19 at ASU Stadium
No. 5 Ironwood Ridge beat No. 4 Canyon del Oro, 2-1
2014: DII Champions (Rich Alday)
2013: DII Runner-Up (Randy Anway)
2011: 5A-II Runner-Up (Randy Anway)
2008: 5A-II Runner-Up (Randy Anway)
The schools are only five miles apart and many of the athletes have known and played with each other since the first grade yet the success experienced at Canyon del Oro (27-8) had eluded Ironwood Ridge (28-7). Until Monday night.
A 2-1 victory at ASU Stadium in front of almost 2,000 fans exorcised many of the ghosts that prevented The Ridge (as they prefer to be called) from taking the next step. One of those ghosts was the mystique of Canyon del Oro and the other was their seemingly almost superhero-like revolving door of standouts such as Kenzie Fowler, Kayla Bonstrom and Samantha Nettling.
To be fair, the Nighthawks also had their share of giants such as Kelsey Groff, Makayla McAdams and Robin Landrith but they didn’t have what the Dorados had – the will to win. The will to win comes from expecting to win from the circle, from the plate and with the gloves but it also comes from leadership and The Ridge found it in senior pitcher Emily Robinson.
CDO often wins their games before the first pitch is thrown because opponents read the hype, see the pregame warm-up and then take a look at the fence with the three dozen Division-I athletes listed….and the eight championships. They have no chance. I’ve seen it many times in person.
Robinson put all that aside and came up with her 21st victory of the year in the state championship game, holding the vaunted CDO hitting machine to only one unearned run.
“To be honest,” explained Robinson, “I think I pitch better in close games. I thrive on the pressure and a I focus more. I just really wanted this.”
Referring to her team’s 17-0 win over CDO in the first round of double elimination, Robinson knew that would not happen again so she dedicated herself to get it done Monday night.
“Getting it done” for The Ridge began during pregame introductions when they appeared more spirited and loose than their opponents and Robinson carried that over to the top of the first with three straight outs including two strikeouts.
On the other side, Gabi Blevins was a late-season call up from the junior varsity squad and she was quickly called into action. She was given the task of stopping Ironwood Ridge in the final game of the season. Blevins had actually beaten the varsity squad in a scrimmage so her skill level was already known but, what wasn’t known, was how she would respond to being in center stage.
Only a sophomore, Blevins picked up seven strikeouts and kept her team in the game by giving up only one earned run despite giving Ironwood Ridge several chances to score. The first score came in the bottom of the second on a lead-off error to put Skyler Bracety on base.
Robyn Porter followed with a single and then Lexi Orth came up with another hit to load the bases. Blevins picked up a fielder’s choice on an interference call and then collected a strikeout but a walk to Lu Olson brought in Bracety. Blevins closed it out with another strikeout.
The only earned run of the game came in the bottom of the third after Reina Bondi singled up the middle and Porter drove her in a couple of batters later. That was it. Blevins scattered four hits the rest of the way but the damage was done with Robinson in the circle.
CDO got a run back in the top of the fourth after Monique Castillo singled and the ball got past the outfield to score Becca Ziegler from second base. CDO went 1 for 11 the rest of the way. Game over. In the end, it was their bats and not their speed that proved to be the difference.
Robinson gave up five hits (Carli Campbell, Ziegler, Nettling, Castillo and Brenna Griesser) but there were no walks. None. Nettling had the hardest shot of the game in the second inning and courtesy runner Sierra Gaskill moved to second base on a sac bunt from Castillo. Gaskill was the only other Dorado to get into scoring position.
UA-bound Merilee Miller struggled early with future head coach Mike Candrea in the stands but finished strong with two infield singles to display her speed and she recorded three outs from centerfield.
“This is indescribable,” said Miller. “I’m proud of my teammates. We set our goals and we realized them together.”
Porter also had two hits in the game and an RBI and she will be called upon to help rebuild Yavapai next year. “I don’t know how I feel,” said Porter. “I’m still in shock. I know we just got it done.”
Orth added two hits and Bondi and Bracety picked up hits as noted before.
For longtime coach Rich Alday, his first year at Ironwood Ridge proved to be one of his best seasons although he gives a lot of credit to his players.
“They set a goal and they wanted it,” explained Alday. “We changed a few things and they trusted me. It was one heck of a ballgame.”
Only four Dorados will remain from their last championship from 2012 and Alday will have a roster full to call upon from this year. That experience cannot be overlooked.
It’s how programs are built.
Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and 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