It must have seemed strange for Pinnacle High School to be playing in this year’s 6A state championship softball game against an opponent other than its usual nemesis, Hamilton High.
The two teams have made the title game their exclusive little party for the last three years. Pinnacle beat the Huskies for the crown last year; Hamilton turned the tables the previous two years.
And it must have been an even bigger adjustment Monday when the top-seeded Pioneers left ASU’s Farrington Stadium without the hardware.
Sandra Day O’Connor High School, the No. 7 seed, beat them both on the way to the school’s second softball championship.
SDO knocked No. 2 Hamilton into the losers’ bracket with a solid 9-6 victory in the second game of the tourney. Sixth-seeded Cibola High finished off the Huskies, using a 3-1 win to send Hamilton home much sooner than anyone had expected.
After a dominating win over No. 3 Red Mountain High School, 17-2, in the semifinals, the Eagles rolled into the title game with the wind at their backs and full of confidence. That momentum served its purpose as the Eagles jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning to give starting pitcher, Danielle Wilson, a nice cushion before she even threw her first pitch.
But Pinnacle helped the O’Connor effort by committing a couple of defensive errors that allowed two of those runs to score.
That theme carried on throughout the game as the Pioneers committed five errors over the seven innings, more than they had in any of their previous 28 games. Over the course of the regular season, they averaged just over one error per game.
They were also sabotaged by an inability to bring runners home for the scores they desperately needed. On three different occasions, the Pioneers were able to load the bases, but couldn’t find the big hits to score runs in bunches.
Pinnacle cut the lead to 4-2 in the fifth inning, but errors in the sixth inning allowed O’Connor to push it back to a four-run cushion, enough to hold off the Pioneers the rest of the way.
Morgan Smith, Pinnacle’s junior ace, had been dominant during the Pioneers’ run through the tournament, but gave up eight hits to the Eagles in the title game.
During the regular season, Pinnacle swept back-to-back games against the Eagles at the end of March, outscoring O’Connor 22-8 over the two games.
But the Eagles soared when they had to, showing that their No. 7 seeding in the state tourney sold them short.