Kelly Fowler is the third head softball coach in the last three years at Canyon del Oro High School. But that never seems to bother the Dorados, who just keep on winning.
For eight straight years, culminating with a 2012 state title, the Dorados were one of the two teams playing each year for a state championship. Overall, the Division II school in Tucson owns eight state softball titles.
And Fowler’s return to the program brings with it high hopes for yet another state title this year.
This is the third tour of duty for the local coaching legend at Canyon del Oro, and each one has brought big results. She started at the school after CDO won the 2001 championship under Dee Dinota, brought home her own title in 2005 before leaving the program, and returned to the Dorados dugout for the 2010-11 season, during which she won another state title.
And now she’s back for another run, this time for probably more than just a single season since she no longer will be devoting time to watching her daughter, Kenzie, pitch for the University of Arizona. Kenzie graduated last year after leading the Wildcats to the championship game of the Women’s College World Series as a freshman before limping through the remainder of her college career, dogged with one injury after another. (Another daughter, Mattie, is a senior playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.)
This year’s CDO squad is not the dominant force that Kelly Fowler led to the 2011 state 4-A title. That team went 35-1 and rolled through the playoffs, blitzing the opposing teams by a combined 42-5 scoring through four games. They finished the season as the No. 4-ranked team in the nation.
This year, the Dorados are 24-5 and on a seven-game winning streak with five games left to play in the regular season.
But the most important of those last seven wins was the one against Ironwood Ridge High School, the cross-town rival and defending state champion.
The 10-7 victory was a much anticipated chance for revenge against the team that beat them last year in the state title game. That championship last year was the first-ever for Ironwood Ridge, but it also marked the second time they beat CDO in the double-elimination playoffs; the first time was a humiliating 17-0 decision in the first round.
So this year’s meeting has been clearly marked on the team’s schedule for a long time.
Stephanie Nicholson won 30 games last season but couldn’t add that final victory to her resume. Nicholson directed the program for three years, winning 30 or more games each season: 33-5 in 2012, 31-6 in 2013, and 30-8 last year. That first year in charge, the Dorados won the D-II state title, earning Nicholson Coach of the Year honors.
Last week’s win also serves as a barometer of sorts as to how prepared the Dorados are for the post-season games that are little more than a week away. However, it can’t be called a typical game for either team since defense was not the order of the day as the two teams combined for 11 errors and gave up 26 hits.
The Dorados jumped on The Ridge early, going up 4-0 in the first inning. After the Nighthawks tied it at 7-7, CDO used a three-run spurt in the sixth to wrap up the win.
Both teams will likely find themselves in a four-team sprint to the title this year and will have to find a way to deal with Salpointe Catholic, the No. 1 team in Division II, and No. 2 Sahuaro High School. CDO lost to both teams this year, 7-2 to Sahuaro and 9-7 to Salpointe. Ironwood Ridge lost to Sahuaro, 5-3, but hasn’t played Salpointe yet. That game with the Lancers happens tomorrow.
All four teams with the best chance of taking home the crown this year are from the Tucson area, and the potential for a CDO-Ridge re-match for the title makes the race even more interesting for southern Arizona fans.