A rare opportunity for softball fans is just days away. And requires just a short drive to northeast Phoenix.
That’s where Pinnacle High School will be hosting Hamilton High in a Friday game featuring the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 prep softball teams. The 2018 MaxPreps Xcellent Preseason Top 50 Softball Rankings have Hamilton ranked No. 1 among the country’s best programs and Pinnacle right behind in the No. 2 position.
The Huskies may be slightly favored here, thanks to their No. 1 ranking, but the sentiment has to be with Pinnacle. Chandler’s Hamilton has stood in the way of a 6A state championship trophy the last two years, when Pinnacle finished runner-up to the Huskies in both title games.
And last year, Pinnacle finished the season with a 34-2 record — both of the losses to the Huskies.
The two teams have met six times over that span of two years. Hamilton has won five of those.
So there will be plenty of motivation for Pinnacle when the two teams take the field Friday for the 3:45 start.
However, it will take more than motivation to get the Pioneers over the psychological hump and shake off the ghosts from seasons past. The Huskies have one of the best pitching staffs in the state and one of the best outfields in the country.
Both of the pitchers that carried the Huskies to a 30-6 record last season have returned as seniors. Madison Seigworth went 11-3 with a 1.92 ERA and Abby Andersen finished 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA. Another senior, infielder Kylee Saunders is also available for pitching back-up, if needed, and freshman Loganne Stepp has already caught the eye of major college recruiters.
This year’s squad is loaded with D-I talent. That includes Andersen (signed with ASU), Saunders (signed Kansas Ottawa) outfielders Taylor Gindlesperger (signed Stanford) and Ali Ashner (signed UofA), and catchers Macy Simmons (committed Auburn) and Hannah Vargas (committed Missouri).
Gindlesperger was among five local players included in the MaxPreps Preseason All-American Team. She played a major role in leading the Huskies to last year’s state title, batting .555 with nine home runs, 71 hits, and 50 RBIs.
But Hamilton (2-0) will face last year’s Gatorade Arizona Softball Player of the Year Marissa Schuld, now a senior who brings a wealth of experience to her job and an intense desire to win the 6A state title before packing up to head to University of Arizona in the fall.
While Pinnacle (3-1) failed to get the job done last year, it wasn’t due to a lack of star-caliber outings from the 5’3″ dynamo. Schuld won 22 games and lost just once last season, posting a sizzling 0.80 ERA. In 131 innings in the circle, she recorded 248 strike-outs.
And she also contributed significantly at the plate where she hit .505, with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs.
She will be backed up by one of the most talent-rich teams in the state with an infield that is deep and an outfield that is strong-armed and quick to the ball.
Pinnacle has its own stable of college-bound players. In addition to Schuld, the seniors who have already signed to play at the next level include Cassandra Kelley (UMass-Amherst), Nicole Amodio (Boston College), Jessica Mabrey (Pacific), and Marie Funes (Sacred Heart-Fairfield). Three others in the line-up have given verbal commitments: junior Taylor Fawcett (Grand Canyon) and sophomores Emma Bullard (Houston) and Morgan Smith (LSU).
Schuld joins Gindlesperger on the All-American Team, as do a trio of other local standouts: senior infielder Grace Lyons from Sandra Day O’Connor HS, senior outfielder Rachel Hammons from Bourgade Catholic, and junior utility player Alynah Torres from Cactus HS.
There may not be another softball game all season that will be able to showcase more college-bound talent than this one – which might also turn out to be a preview of yet another state title game.