Horizon softball enters Saturday a win away from 5A state final

Horizon junior Kaity Woods attempts to turn a double play against Willow Canyon May 7 during a 5A softball winners bracket semifinal at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix. (Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia)

Horizon High School remains undefeated in the 5A softball playoffs and needs a win Saturday to reach the state final at Arizona State University’s Farrington Stadium Monday night.

The Huskies will play No. 3 seed Ironwood Ridge High School (23-6), which held off No. 9 Willow Canyon High School 3-1 Thursday night.

Ironwood Ridge has to beat No. 5 Horizon (20-6) twice Saturday at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix to deny it a place at state. Game 1 starts at 10 a.m. and if the Nighthawks win, game two would begin shortly thereafter.

“We’re a little superstitious right now, which is kind of fun. We eat certain things for lunch. Tomorrow we’re going to go back a little bit more defensively and kind of go over some things we kind of miscued today. But we want to keep it simple and enjoy the ride,” Horizon coach Jackie Coburn said following a May 7 victory against Willow Canyon.

Horizon’s three home runs during Tuesday’s 5A winners bracket semifinal against Willow Canyon accounted for four of the Huskies 11 runs.

But the timing of those blasts could not have been better. Senior pitcher Morgan Leinstock uncorked a solo home run to center to lead off the bottom of the second — just after Willow Canyon tied the game at 4 in the top half of the inning.

“That was good for her because she was a little uncertain of what she was going to do. We knew we were going to hit well,” Coach Coburn said.

Then the ASU-bound Leinstock entered in relief of senior Gabby Cronin and allowed the potent Wildcats offense only one more run. Horizon kept hitting and making Willow Canyon pay for its mistakes in an 11-5 win.

“We went with Gabby, who has a little bit different action than Morgan. We weren’t getting any of those calls – they weren’t calling anything up. Morgan is more of a drop ball down pitcher and I knew if we brought her in, that game would change,” Coach Coburn said.

The game was mostly enjoyable after Wildcats freshman second baseman Alannah Rogers scored thanks to an error on senior catcher Mashayla Beltran’s ground ball.

The Huskies struck back quickly. An error, plus a RBI single from sophomore third baseman Spencer Prigge made it 2-1.

A ground out sent home the third run and an RBI single from Cronin capped the first inning with a 4-1 Huskies lead.

This error and others to follow were Willow Canyon coach Donnie Tizzano’s main takeaway on the night. For one of the rare times this year, a team that starts as many as six freshman played young.

“We struggled a lot more defensively than I thought we would. It was probably the worst defensive game we’ve played this year,” Coach Tizzano said. “These girls play a lot of competitive club and they’re in championship games. Here you play your entire season for one tournament. I think the moment did get a little bit big for us.”

At first, it seemed Willow Canyon would simply hit its way back into it. Beltran capped a second-inning rally by smacking a two-run double for a 4-4 tie.

Leinstock smashed her deep drive but freshman relief pitcher Gabby Sublasky settled down the Huskies until there were two outs in the third. Then  junior Meredith Tutrone hit a home runn nearly as hard to almost the same spot over the center field netting for a 6-4 lead.

“Once we get rolling, we’re hard to stop. I think what stopped it was, they did a great job of answering every time we scored. And they answered with the long ball. When you hit the long ball and you hit them as hard as they hit them, it’s a little bit deflating,” Coach Tizzano said.

The final long ball was the death blow. Prigge hit a two-run tater in the bottom of the fourth for a 9-4 advantage.

Coach Coburn said despite her youth, Prigge is already one of the Huskies best all-around players and leaders.

Coach Tizzano said his team would have been in that game if they played better defensively. But, he said, Horizon deserves credit for seizing on their mistakes.

Editor’s Note: Richard Smith is the West Valley Preps sports editor for the Daily News Sun.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment