Horizon HS beats state’s best to win Desert Mountain Invite

Red Mountain High School had to settle for a third-place finish in the popular Desert Mountain Softball Invitational that concluded Saturday.  It wasn’t the result the team’s head coach, Richard Hamilton, had hoped for – but he prefers to think of it instead as a good omen for better things to come.

The Mountain Lions have finished third at the invitational, one of the top high school softball tournaments in the state, three times previous and then went on all three years to win a state championship.  This year, the Mesa school had to overcome a three-run deficit to beat Scottsdale’s Chaparral High, 8-7, for the consolation win.

But Horizon High School, another Scottsdale entrant in the five-day tournament played in Scottsdale, had no trouble claiming the title this year.  The Huskies jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Chandler’s Basha High School in the first inning and continued adding to it throughout the championship game to wrap up a 10-0 win and become the 14th different school to win a title during the event’s 16 years.

That’s how tough it is to win this tournament, which generally offers a preview of the upcoming state tournament since the field always includes a good representation of the state’s top teams.  The loss in the championship game was just the second all season for Basha.

However, this year’s tournament results make it a little hard to get a good read.  Horizon (16-3) beat Basha for the title, but Basha (15-2) soundly beat the Huskies earlier in the tourney, 13-3.  And Red Mountain (16-3), despite finishing in third, lost just one of the seven games it played – and that was to Horizon.

In the first meeting on Thursday, the Bears had no trouble with Horizon’s ace on the mound, sophomore pitcher Tamara Statman.  They piled up 10 hits in the four innings Statman was in the circle.  But the second time around, Statman owned the Bears, scattering four hits, striking out 13, and allowing zero free rides to first.

Statman’s performance against Basha came at the end of a long day in which she had thrown two complete games before exacting revenge against the Bears in the championship game.  She threw 23 strike-outs in the first two games, beating Canyon del Oro High, 7-5, and Red Mountain, 9-2.  For her efforts, she was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The young right-hander got plenty of help in the title game, as eight different Horizon batters contributed at least one hit to the winning effort.  She and her catcher, Margo Stahm, began the offensive assault with RBI singles in the second to pad the 2-0 lead from the first inning, and then doubles by Katie Gore and Kaila Jacobi in the fourth pushed the lead to 7-0 before Stahm came back in the top of the sixth with a home run to seal the deal.

Stahm put the team on her back for the three games on Saturday, collecting four home runs, including a grand slam and solo shot in the semi-final game against Red Mountain.  The senior finished the day with five hits in seven trips to the plate, scored six runs herself, and pushed nine more runs across.

The 28-team tournament, which features many of the top teams in Division I and Division II, provides a highly-competitive environment for the better squads as they look ahead to prepare for the final run to the state tournament.  Seventeen teams in this year’s field were state-tournament qualifiers last year.

If Tamara Statman’s performance Saturday against three of the state’s best teams is any indication, Horizon has the workhorse to carry the Huskies to the state finals.