Softball is all about the pitching. Teams live and die with their ace.
If there is anyone out there that doubts that simple fact, they need look no further than to the Red Mountain High School team that won five straight state championships, four of those with Breanna Macha on the mound.
And were evicted from the throne yesterday in the first season after Macha’s graduation.
Desert Vista High School became the team that was able to topple the Division I dynasty that has accumulated six state titles over the last decade, beating the Mountain Lions, 4-1, to stop them just a game short of getting into the double-elimination portion of the state tournament.
Last year, Red Mountain lost its first game in the playoffs to Chaparral High, but was able to climb back up through the losers’ bracket and eventually roll over Mountain Ridge High School in the championship game in an 8-1 victory that was decided early and required just six innings of work from Macha.
But this year, the Lions were given a No. 9 seed coming into the state tournament and no first-round bye, as has been the case during the run they made in setting a new state record with five consecutive titles. They made short work of No. 24 Willow Canyon High in the first round, beating them 7-1, but ran up against a young, but determined Desert Vista squad in the second game.
Red Mountain traded long balls with Desert Vista, which was seeded just above the Lions at No. 8, to reach the sixth inning in a 1-1 deadlock. Sophomore left fielder Jillian Navarro gave the Thunder a 1-0 lead with a solo homer in the top of the fourth, but Red Mountain answered right away with a round trip by second baseman Alyssa Fernandez.
A three-run Desert Vista rally in the sixth was fueled by a bases-loaded double by Madison Kelly and helped with an error by the Lions’ defense and a hit batter.
Red Mountain’s starter, Alexandra Wiley, left the game after six innings, while the Desert Vista’s junior right-hander, Brooke Hughes, went the distance for the Thunder, giving up five hits and striking out six.
Wiley closed out her senior season with an impressive 1.44 ERA and 17 wins, and directed the Lions to a 24-10 record. But it wasn’t the same as having Macha in the circle. Macha, who is playing now for Arizona State, was the pitching ace for all four state-title teams, was named the Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year as a senior, and led the 2014 team to 32 wins.
Granted, she had help from a roster of very talented players. But this year’s squad had enough talent to post a 24-10 record and went into the playoffs on a nine-game winning streak.
But yesterday’s win by Desert Vista would be hard to categorize as an upset. The Thunder finished the season ranked among the top 10 teams in Division I, won 16 games, and had put together an eight-game win streak that extended into early April.
However, a win in their next game would definitely be considered an upset.
Tomorrow night the Thunder meet top-seeded Mountain Ridge, last year’s state title runner-up and this year’s favorite to win it all.