Pitching will rule in tonight’s 5A softball championships

Softball at any level is a game of pitching.  The teams with a dominant pitcher go on, those without, go home.

And that pretty much sums up what we expect to see tonight in the 5A-II championship games.  But the 5A-I game will match up two of the state’s best pitchers, and then it comes down to a lot of slap hitting as each team tries to find a way to get on base.  A single run looms big in these kinds of games.

So, here’s how we see both championships unfolding…

In 5A-I, St. Mary’s HS is riding the strong arm of its senior pitcher, Dallas Escobedo, who has allowed just two hits throughout the state tournament and set a state record for strikeouts t his season.  The 510 mark she just reached in the semifinals breaks the old record of 501 – which she set as a freshman.

Red Mountain HS will counter with its own senior on the mound, Mel Willadsen.  Both Escobedo, who will be pitching for ASU next year, and Willadsen support their work in the circle with solid hitting. Willadsen has cranked more than one home run during the tournament run, including a critical round-trip against Mountain Ridge in the semifinals.

Both teams have a tradition of winning, as Red Mountain won the state title in 2006 and St. Mary’s took the championship trophy home in 2007, Escobedo’s freshman year.  She is focused on wrapping up her high school career the same way it started, with a second title.

Red Mountain, seeded No. 2,  lost its first game of the state tournament last year and then worked its way back up to the title game – only to lose to Basha HS in extra innings.  This year got off to the same start and the Lions have been on the brink of elimination ever since – which forced them to have to beat No. 7 Mountain Ridge twice in the semis to earn another shot at the title.

And they left nothing to chance, winning both games by large margins.  They scored 17 runs in the third inning of the first game and went on to a 19-2 win.  In the elimination game, they jumped out to a 7-0 lead by the third inning and coasted to a 9-1 decision.

St. Mary’s, on the other hand, squeeked past No. 4 Xavier Prep to get to the semifinals and then beat No. 9 Salpointe Catholic, 4-0, to get back to the finals for the third time in five years. Escobedo struck out 12 Xavier batters with just 71 pitches and then fanned 14 in the Salpointe game.

The teams will meet tonight at 8 o’clock at the Rose Mofford Softball Complex.

Prediction: Red Mountain will have more success at the plate than others that have tested Escobedo throughout the tournament, but the 6’1″ hurler with the 65 mph fastball will prove to be too much for the Lions.  St. Mary’s will win in a low-scoring game, similar to when the two teams met in April and the Knights left with a 1-0 win.

In 5A-II, Morgan Montemayor has been the dominating pitcher that has brought Centennial HS to the title game with Sunnyside HS.  Montemayor is considered by most to the best pitcher in 5A-II this season.

But despite Montemayor’s sparkling mound work through the tournament, the top-seeded Coyotes faltered in a Saturday winner’s bracket meeting with No. 4 Sandra Day O’Connor HS.  Despite the senior’s 11 strike-outs, O’Connor pulled out a 2-1 win when the Eagles jumped out to the lead in the first inning and then capped the win on a double in the ninth by Kaitlyn Richardson.

That meant Centennial had to beat O’Connor twice in the semis, which they did, 6-0 and 4-1.  Montemayor struck out 25 in the 14 innings she worked.  But her teammates brought a lot of support, particularly in the second game when the Coyotes used a couple of home runs by Sam Riojas and Paige Tonz to secure the win and a berth in the championship game.

No. 6 Sunnyside beat No. 7 Ironwood HS in the Pool B finals, 3-1, to earn its spot in the title game.  Sunnyside had a good idea what it was up against after having beaten Ironwood 7-2 in an earlier game.

Estela Pinon was on the mound for Sunnyside and got the job done when it counted most.  She allowed eight hits, but was able to get out of three different innings when Ironwood had runners in scoring position.  And she helped her cause at the plate with an RBI double in the sixth.

Centennial and Sunnyside will meet tonight in the 6 o’clock game at Rose Mofford.

Prediction: Montemayor will be too much for Sunnyside to handle.  This should be a lop-sided outcome, with Centennial scoring in double digits and Sunnyside struggling to avoid getting blanked.