Dorado Classic gives early look at Division II softball field

In a single weekend, the teams in Division II high school softball got a good idea of how things will shape up in the regular season, as schools deal with re-alignment.

Four divisions have replaced the seven from years past and, in the process, thrown together schools that don’t normally compete with each other.

But the Dorado Classic softball tournament in Marana provided an opportunity to see how the new mix is likely to play out this season.

Ironwood Ridge High School, which last year played for the championship in 5A-II but lost in the finals, won the event.  Runner-up was Canyon del Oro High School, which won the 2011 4A-I title.  And the reigning 4A-II champ, Sahuarita High School, finished far back in the pack.

All three are from the Tucson area.  Ironwood Ridge, which began the season ranked No. 26 in the country by ESPN, and No. 15 Canyon del Oro are the early picks to play for the championship in the new Division II.

But Sahuarita struggled throughout the Dorado tourney, getting outscored 7-55 in five games and punching across no more than two runs in any one game.  No high pre-season expectations here.

However, another early favorite, Sahuaro High School (also from Tucson), took third place in the tournament, beating Pinnacle High, a Division I team, 14-9.  The 5-3 loss to Ironwood Ridge in the semifinals was Sahuaro’s only loss in the tournament as the Cougars outscored their opponents, 46-0, leading up to the Pinnacle game.

This will be a different kind of year for Canyon del Oro which, in the recent past, has been able to depend on its pitching to keep them at the top of the 4A-I rankings and claim the lion’s share of state titles.

But Kenzie Fowler is pitching for the University of Arizona now.  She left the CDO program three years ago, during which time she was twice named the Gatorade National Player of the Year and led the Dorados to three state championships and one runner-up finish.

She pitched the Cats to the NCAA National Championship game in her freshman year and was a finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year as a sophomore.

Fowler left her high school program in good hands, but now her successors on the mound have also moved on to the college game.

Little sister, Mattie Fowler, will be pitching and playing third base at Nebraska this season.

Until her senior season at CDO, she was able to concentrate on playing shortstop by letting her big sister carry the pitching load.  But in her final year she stepped into the circle and posted a 14-0 record and a 0.85 ERA to help the team to another state championship – and a No. 2 national ranking.

Her partner on the mound was Kiley Raica, who went 12-1 with a 1.55 ERA.  She struck out 71 batters in her 77 innings on the mound, holding opposing hitters to a .181 batting average.

Raica is now enjoying a successful start to her freshman season at Grand Canyon University, a D-II school in west Phoenix.  She threw a two-hitter in her debut against Western New Mexico and since then has compiled a 5-2 record.

This year, Kayla Bonstrom has ascended to the mound from her normal outfield position to try to carry the majority of the pitching load for CDO in her last year at the school.  The senior also brings a big bat to the party; she’s hitting at a .667 clip and slammed a two-run homer in the championship game over the weekend.

But, if Canyon del Oro is to get back to the title game in its new division, it will depend more on its hitting and a little less on the pitching.  Five of its best hitters from last year are back, and the squad is putting up a solid defensive effort so far.

They will get another chance to showcase that talent today – and maybe even the score with Ironwood Ridge.  The two teams meet in a regular-season encounter this afternoon at Ironwood Ridge.