The 2013 high school softball season has been totally unpredictable among the big-school programs in Division I, with each of the top 10-ranked teams capable of beating any school on its schedule. And it looked like the state tournament would have a deep field of talented teams that made it almost impossible to pick an eventual winner.
But that all changed when the post-season got underway two weeks ago. Red Mountain High School – which was a No. 6 seed – bulldozed its way through the state tournament to a fourth straight championship. The Mountain Lions allowed just one run going into yesterday’s title game with No. 14-seeded Chaparral High and finished their run to the championship by outscoring their opponents 27-6.
In Division II, Sunrise Mountain High School also steamrolled its way to the title, but the Mustangs laid claim to this year’s championship almost from the first game on the regular-season schedule. They compiled a 31-1 record before entering the post-season, and then applied that winning formula to their run through the state tournament. Sunrise blanked No. 9 seed Verrado High, No. 12 Salpointe Catholic, and No. 7 Greenway High before meeting up with No. 4 Ironwood Ridge High School in yesterday’s championship game at Arizona State.
The top-seeded Peoria school added one final shutout by beating the Nighthawks, 7-0, behind a 12-strikeout performance by senior hurler, Taylor Nowlin. Last year, it was Nowlin that got tagged with a home run in extra innings to lose the title game to Canyon del Oro High School. A chance to exact revenge for last year’s loss was especially sweet for her as she can now move on to the college game, where she will play for Grand Canyon University.
She was supported this year by a strong offensive display in the title game, led by a 3-for-4 performance by catcher Morgan Leonard. She got the scoring started with a double in the bottom of the first inning that gave the Mustangs a 1-0 lead, and then came back in the fourth with a triple to deep left field that plated two more runs and boosted the lead to 5-0.
This was the school’s fourth state championship in the last seven years.
But it was the fourth in a row for Red Mountain, a first in the annals of Division I high school softball in this state. And it very nearly was five in a row since the Lions advanced to the title game in the year before beginning their historic string. Chaparral did a four-peat back in the mid-90s, but the Firebirds were in Class 4A at the time.
The key to the 9-5 Red Mountain victory was putting Chaparral into a deep enough hole – and then keeping them there. Jordan Beck‘s home run in the first inning got things perking for the Mesa squad, which then went on to score six runs in the first three innings. In the fifth inning, Savannah Kirkpatrick parked a solo homer over the left-field fence to make the score 9-1 and essentially shut the door on Chapparal – although the Firebirds did manage four runs in the sixth on a string of six hits, a walk, and a Lions’ error.
Now the Mountain Lions have accomplished something that no other Division I team has been able to do. So what are the chances of one more consecutive title to provide a little additional insurance that their record will hold for years to come, and may never be broken?
Red Mountain graduates just two key players from this year’s team. Actually, one more title run may not be such a long shot.