Cornered Cobras produce their best day of softball to get back to state

Cactus Junior catcher Kaytlin Leyvas slides home for a run in the second 4A state semifinal game with Tucson Canyon del Oro May 11 at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix, Cactus needed to win both games to qualify for the state title game, and did, winning 9-3 and 7-2. [Courtesy Ed Russell Photography/For West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

They left for Mofford Saturday morning on a mission.

If she got the opportunity, Alynah Torres was going to hit all day. If she was intentionally walked, her Cobra teammates were going to make Tucson Canyon del Oro pay. If Bub Feringa needed to pitch 14 innings in four hours, she would.

Cactus was going to drag itself off the mat and defeat a team that beat the Cobras by 12 runs four days ago. And the Cobras were going to do it twice.

“Our bats were hot. We were loud and we were excited. After what happened last time I feel like we came out hungry. We wanted not just to play them, but we wanted to kill (their spirit). That was in our minds all day,” Torres said.

Not only did these Cobras accomplish their mission – two wins against a perennial powerhouse with eight state championships – they did so in dominant fashion. Cactus won the first game 9-3 and the second game 7-2.

Feringa controlled two complete games from the circle and some stellar defense behind her cut off a potent Dorados lineup at the pass. Cactus produced its 16 runs in practically every fashion – the long ball, the clutch double, aggressive running on the basepaths and the well placed ground ball that allowed the runner at third to get home.

The Cobras played like champions. Now they have one more revenge mission to complete before they can earn that crown.

No. 2 Cactus (32-3) will face No. 1 Tucson Salpointe Catholic (24-4) in the 4A state title game at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the University of Arizona’s Hillenbrand Stadium. Salpointe defeated the Cobras 2-0 in the 2018 4A final.

In the big picture, the 15-3 loss to Canyon del Oro on May 7 and the self reflection it caused may help in the long run. The 2018 Cobras rarely were challenged before the title game, outscoring their four playoff foes my a combined 33-9.

“Last year, we kind of struggled hitting during the final game. Definitely seeing these types of pitchers and being able to do something against them gives us a lot of confidence coming in,” Feringa said.

This time, against a stacked Dorados batting order, was not going to be easy. Canyon del Oro took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first in game one.

Then the Cobras broke through in the third, thanks to their (temporary) No. 9 hitter. Sophomore Hannah DiFabio lifted a home run over the center field fence to tie the contest.

After intentionally walking Torres three times earlier in the week, Canyon del Oro pitched to her. Now Cactus had two straight home runs and kept rolling.

Freshman Tanya Windle was safe on an overthrow of first and motored to second. Junior catcher Kaitlyn Leyvas RBI double off the fence. Feringa followed with an RBI single for a 4-1 advantage.

“I was looking at it and thinking, should we mix the lineup up? We’ve got to protect Alynah, they’re going to walk her. We’ve got to have somebody batting ninth who can get on and then put someone behind her that can bunt,” Cactus coach Bartt Underwood said. “So we moved Hannah down to No. 9 and she hits a home run. Then they pitched to Alynah the next at bat and she hits a home run. You second guess yourselves a lot of times. I had coaches telling me, ‘go with what got you here.’ For the most part our lineup was the same. I think we flipped our 2 and 3 hitter and took our six hitter and moved her to nine.”

The Cactus softball team celebrates clinching a spot in the 4A state title game. [Courtesy Ed Russell Photography]
In the fifth, the Tucson team intentionally walked Torres to load the bases with two outs. Then they unintentionally walked Windle.

No. 6 Canyon del Oro (20-8) drew the closest it would all day on junior Sabrina Garcia’s two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth. That made it 5-3.

Underwood’s team put the first game away in the top of the seventh. With the bases loaded, senior Carson Gambs hit a two-run single between first and second.

Sophomore Grace Seale and Torres added RBI ground outs for a 9-3 advantage.

“All we told Carson was, ‘You don’t have to load up. Just get your hands out here and let’s go. You’re a strong kid and that girl is throwing hard. You don’t have to hit it hard,'” Underwood said. “If you think about that game, Alynah hit the home run but the middle and bottom part of the order were the ones hitting home runs.”

Feringa said her club team plays two games back-to-back very frequently. With she pitchers rotating, though, she never pitches in two straight games.

Yet there was no doubt in her mind she would do so Saturday.

“We gave her the ball in the first game and I said, ‘Bub, we’re going to win or lose with you today. The only way I’ll pull you out is if every girl is shellacking you. But I don’t see that happening,'” Underwood said. “As soon as we won the first game, our eyes met when she came off the field and I said, ‘Are you …’ and she said, ‘Yes I am.’ I didn’t even get to finish.”

The sophomore hurler only got stronger as the afternoon continued. Plus she added an RBI single in the second inning of the second game.

Junior Aubrey Chavez continued on to second and Torres to third and the Cobras manipulated the running game to induce two throws to the “wrong” base and brought both home for a 3-0 advantage.

Seale doubled to lead off the bottom of the third. Then the Dorados pitched to Torres again and the result was her 23rd home run of the season and a solid 5-0 lead.

“I thought they were going to walk her,” Underwood said.

Feringa and the defense behind her handled it from there. Cactus ended the fourth inning quickly, catching a liner and doubling up a runner.

“It was amazing. It was so fun to watch. As a pitcher it’s great to know that if they get a hard hit off of me I know I’ve got a good defense behind me. They big plays came at great times,” Feringa said.

Feringa and Windle added fourth-inning RBIs for a 7-0 advantage.

Garcia broke the shutout in the top of the fifth, but Torres made sure there would not be a comeback. With one out, she ranged from short over to catch a pop fly at the third base foul line, then threw back across her body to gun down a runner that had cheated too much off second.

Inning over. And, basically, game over.

“Did we flash the leather? They hit some hard balls and we made some plays that had me thinking oh my goodness,” Underwood said.

Saturday’s mission is accomplished. But this team’s greater purpose remains.

More than even themselves, the Cobras want to win their first state title since 2006 in memory of booster club president Dan Renyer. He died of a heart attack Dec. 12, 2018 and everthing since that day has been to honor “Dan the Man”

“Before the second game started I told my team, ‘We’re playing for something bigger than just us. We’re playing for Dan. We’re playing for our school. We’re playing for us.’ We want to win and we want to get revenge against Salpointe,” Torres said. “We knew what we needed to do and we did it. Mostly we thank Dan. He’s our motivation for this year.”

Cactus sophomore pitcher McKenna “Bub” Feringa prepares to deliver a pitch during the second game between Cactus and Tucson Canyon del Oro May 11 at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix. Feringa pitched two complete games to earn the Cobras a berth in the 4A state finals. [Courtesy Ed Russell Photography/West Valley Preps]

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