That wasn’t a monkey on the backs of the Pinnacle High School softball team. It was a 700-pound gorilla.
And today, for the first time in years, that heavy weight of frustration has been lifted.
All it took was a state championship.
The Pioneers’ 4-0 victory over Hamilton High in the 6A state championship game last night finally put an end to what had to be a recurring nightmare for the last couple of seasons.
Here’s how the bad dream unfolds each season: Pinnacle enjoys a highly-successful season, then fights its way through the state tournament, only to lose to Hamilton in the title game. That’s the way it’s happened the last two years.
To make it even harder to take, the Pioneers had never won a state title in softball. Never.
But having its title hopes dashed on a regular basis, was only part of the frustration that each new season brought to Pinnacle. The Pioneers play in the Desert Mountain Invitational each year, an early-season event that draws some of the best teams in the state to a field of 20 schools. The last three years, they have lost in the tourney’s title game. The last two were losses to… yep, Hamilton.
Last year, they lost the tourney title to the Huskies when an infield error allowed Hamilton to score the game’s only run. And this year, when they had to play without their top two pitchers, the Huskies took advantage to hand the Pioneers a soul-crushing 19-0 loss.
And this season did not start well for the Pioneers, when the two teams met on March 2 in a televised match-up of the nation’s top two ranked teams, according to MaxPreps Excellent Preseason Top 50.. Top-ranked Hamilton, which has a roster loaded with college scholarship offers, won that one, 12-8.
So, it’s easy to see why yesterday’s accomplishment meant so much to this team. And to do it in such convincing fashion just sweetened the taste of victory.
Sophomore Morgan Smith delivered the message that Pinnacle was ready for a different outcome this year, stroking a long home run over the right center field fence in the second inning.
And then the Pioneers added three more runs to put an exclamation mark on the message. Starting pitcher Marissa Schuld began the offensive barrage with a home run in the third, followed by a single by Jessica Mabrey and a two-bagger from Smith. Taylor Fawcett‘s single to left field brought home Mabrey and Smith, and it was 4-0 before Hamilton could get on track.
Ironically, the long ball has been a potent weapon for Hamilton this season; the Huskies had 51 during the regular season. But Schuld wasn’t going to let them use their power when they needed it most.
Schuld, last year’s Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, made sure the four-run cushion would be sufficient for the win, striking out 14 Husky batters and not allowing a runner until the fifth inning. By that time, it was too late for Hamilton to catch up.
The win had to be especially meaningful to Schuld, who used the title win to wrap up an outstanding prep career before heading to University of Arizona next year. And it provided some vindication since she was the starting pitcher for the last two state championship games that were lost to Hamilton.
For Hamilton (33-2), the loss also marked the end of a 26-game winning streak. Just 12 days into the season, Mater Dei High School from California beat them in a tournament in Bullhead City, but Pinnacle (31-6) is the only in-state team to accomplish that feat this season.
And the Pioneers certainly picked the right time to do it.