Parity in sports is a good thing, particularly at the high school level. We all get tired of the power schools piling up consecutive state titles.
And that’s what makes this week’s Division I baseball and softball state tournament results so encouraging. There are more than 200 high schools playing competitive sports in Arizona and there’s always room for a new champion.
This time it was Mesquite High School‘s turn in baseball, with the Wildcats winning the Division I state championship for the first time yesterday. But it wasn’t just the first state title in baseball for the Gilbert school – it was the first title in any sport. It has been a long dry spell for a school that opened 17 years ago.
Hamilton High, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, was eliminated by Liberty High earlier, which left the title game to No. 3 Liberty and No. 2 Mesquite, with the Mesquites Wildcats posting the 5-2 championship victory.
And the softball D-I state title that Sandra Day O’Connor won the day before also marks the first title in that sport for the north Phoenix school. The second-seeded Eagles defeated No. 1 seed Mountain Ridge High School, 2-0.
Each had their own set of obstacles to overcome, making these stories even more interesting. Mesquite had to get over the psychological hump of getting to the championship game twice in the last seven years, but failing to bring home a title. The issue was still very fresh in the minds of the players since it was just last year that they were beat for the second time in the championship game.
And then, after making it into the title game yesterday, they had to overcome another mental hurdle when Liberty hung two runs on them right out of the chute, taking a 2-0 lead before Mesquite batters could take a swing.
In the girls game Monday, O’Connor had to scratch to survive after being beaten by one run by No. 7 Pinnacle High in its very first game of the tourney, and then had to win four straight games just to get into the title game.
While O’Connor winning its first softball title offers up a feel-good story, the frustrations of Glendale’s Mountain Ridge (30-5) offer a completely different picture. The Mountain Lions now have back-to-back runner-up finishes. They lost in the title game last year to Mesa’s Red Mountain High School, which used the 8-1 win over Mountain Ridge to string together its fifth straight state title for a new state record.
Desert Vista High School cleared the way for a new state champion this year by dethroning Red Mountain in a 4-1 upset before they could even get to the double-elimination stage of the tourney.
O’Connor (36-7) made a good case for its right to be playing in the title game when it soundly beat No. 3 Xavier Prep, 9-2, in the semifinals. And in the final game they faced down Giselle Juarez, one of the best high school pitchers in the state. The junior left-hander struck out seven and allowed three hits, but it was a couple of walked batters that spelled the difference.
Stevie McLemore scored both runs for O’Connor after getting free rides to first. She scored in the second inning after stealing second and then coming home on a double by Jamilia Cosay, and scored the insurance run in the top of the seventh on a Justyce McClain single.
Sophomore Emma Vesely was on the mound for the entire game for O’Connor, striking out five and allowing four hits.
To win the boys’ title, Mesquite (24-9) had to rally from a two-run deficit. Liberty (29-6) drew first blood by scoring twice in the first inning, on an RBI double by Tyler Wyatt followed by a second score on a fielder’s choice two outs later.
Mesquite’s Noah Cordova made it 2-1 by scoring on a wild pitch after punching out a double to get on base. Nick Daley tied the game in the third with a sacrifice fly that scored Brit Fitzgerald.
In the fifth, it was Daley again bringing home the run on a single that scored Bucky Dehority and gave the Wildcats a lead they would hold the rest of the way. Cordova’s second double of the game in the sixth inning, combined with a two-out single by Dehority, provided the insurance runs.