COTTONWOOD - The perfect softball season continues for Paradise Honors High School.
Head Coach Paul Hatcher punched at least two tickets to Paradise’s 4A conference state semifinal after the Panthers’ three-run burst with two outs in the seventh inning went to 20-0 on the season, ending higher-seeded Mingus Union High School’s 6-3 in Cottonwoo Tuesday, May 11.
One ticket would have to go to sophomore starting pitcher Samara Romero, who struck out eight Marauders and allowed three hits in four-and-one-third innings before driving home the fifth run, junior Amailee Morales, with two outs. Romero then scored the final run herself.
“She’s always great,” Hatcher said of Romero. “She was having a very hard time of it, things weren’t going her way, but she’ll be back. She was amazing.”
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Morales gets the second ticket after her three RBIs - including a triple and two doubles - broke two ties with two outs in the top of the fifth and seventh innings.
Her first timely hit came after Mingus senior Tabitha Freeman’s two-out double tied the game, 2-2, in the bottom of the fourth. Her second, following another double, this one by junior Marauder lef fielder Mackenzie Figy, that scored sophomore Kiki Saravo.
She also drove in freshman Makayla George with the game’s first run off her second hit off junior pitcher Alexis Ayersman, who had not allowed any other Panther to hit safely up to that point in the third inning.
If the spirit of Eddie Money is willing, a third ticket to Paradise could go to junior Krista Francia, who moved in from shortstop with one out in the fifth inning to get the final eight outs, three of them strikeouts, for the win.
Hopefully there is enough money for Francia to buy another ticket for senior center fielder Ledezma Romero, who hit two singles from the leadoff position in the batting order and scored half of the Panthers’ run total.
“That’s how you do it!” an excited Hatcher exhorted Morales and her teammates after overcoming two Marauder rallies to advance to the semifinals in Paradise Honors' first season in 4A - and the program's first time at any level.
The face 4A's other undefeated team 22-0 top seed Tucson Salpointe Catholic High School, which dominated ninth-seeded Poston Butte, 15-0 in five innings.
Salpointe is the two-time defending 4A champion, winning in 2018 and 2019.
“We play hard, we love each other, we care...we really compete,” Hatcher said.
With the Panthers’ shot at the state championship game starting at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 13, at the two-time defending state champion Lancers, all else Hatcher had left to say to his undefeated Southwest Region champs was, pack your bags, we leave tonight.
“They’re the best team in 4A,” Hatcher said. “We’re going to do the best we can.”
And they’ve waited so long, these last two 4A teams to go undefeated in non-tournament high school play the last two years.
Salpointe didn’t lose a single game en route to its 2019 title, while the Panthers have never lost a 4A game. Although their win at Mingus was their 20th of this spring, the Paradise Honors softball has already erased some painful playoff memories, even after avenging a 2019 3A first-round loss to the Sahuarita Mustangs by winning 11-3 in Surprise May 8.
“They played hard, they competed, they did everything they needed to do,” Hatcher said. “So God bless them for it. They were great.”