West Valley Preps
Centennial coach Randy Kaye remained confident that over the course of two games Saturday afternoon, his team’s pitching depth and offensive versatility would bear out.
Following nine inning of shutout pitching by Tucson Empire sophomore pitcher Vanessa Brink, questions had to creep into the minds of the Coyotes. How were they going to gain command of this winner-take-all game for a state title berth?
It turned out that No. 2 Centennial (21-6) needed one swing. With two Coyotes on in the bottom of the third, the Ravens intentionally walked senior Hailey Galvez to load the bases with Dren Meginnis up to bat.
Base on their two previous matchups, Meginnis did not look like as much of a threat to Empire as Galvez.
The Ravens probably should have checked MaxPreps and noted Meginnis’ 19 home runs and 50 RBI. They did not and her 20th home run was a grand slam well over the left field fence.
“That’s the moments she lives for. I appreciate what (Empire) was thinking. She hadn’t done anything against them,” Centennial coach Randy Kaye said. “And she rose to the occasion and got it done. I’m happy for her.”
The Coyotes added a fifth run in the third inning and were home free from there. Centennial (21-6) beat No. 6 Empire (32-4) by run rule 10-0 in six innings at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix.
“I basically thought she messed up pitching to me because they didn’t think I could hit, but they didn’t really know,” Meginnis said. “As soon as I got back in the dugout, we knew we were going to win this game. The energy just kept going.”
Centennial will play in its first state title game since 2010.
The Coyotes face No. 3 seed Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge (25-5) in the final at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Farrington Stadium on the campus of ASU. And they will play for a title knowing how to respond better in the face of adversity.
“If it was easy, if we would have just gotten it done the way the previous game went, I would have taken it. But it’s like anything else. If you do it the hard way, you build some memories. You have to dig in and find out a little bit about yourself. So I’ll take it,” Kaye said. “I think we got tested and maybe we can draw from it on Monday if we get in this situation.”
After mauling Empire 11-1 during a bracket play game May 7, the Coyotes could have been forgiven in thinking it would be a short Saturday of work.
Kaye did not and his thought process proved correct. Empire ran the bases aggressively and received a pitching gem from Brink.
After nearly scoring in the third inning of the first game, the Ravens grabbed the lead with two outs in the fourth. Sophomore Aly Nava hit a double, then with runners on second and third junior Reagan Grossi brought both home by launching a ground rule double to center.
“If you go try to back a dog into a corner, it’s going to fight, and I expected them to do that. I told our kids this morning that they’re not going to come here and roll over for you,” Kaye said. “They wanted that first game. And I think they wanted to come here and redeem themselves. I think they did.”
The Coyotes could not come back, but their pitching already was coming into play. Following the ground rule double, sophomore Meghan Golden entered in relief of senior starter Sydnie Sahhar.
She pitched 3 1/3 shutout innings in game one. Golden then started game two and added four more shutout innings.
“After the first game we kind of talked and got our stuff together,” Golden said.
Centennial tacked on a run after Meginnis’ slam. Freshman Adyson Maya and Galves added RBI singles in the fourth inning as the lead grew to 9-0.
Junior Mariah Lopez came in for Golden in the fifth and added two shutout innings to finish the win.
Golden showed promise as a freshman pitcher but faded into the background – at least in perception – when Lopez moved in. Lopez pitched Vail Cienega to state titles in her first two seasons.
Talk of a dynamic duo with Lopez and Sahhar did not come to fruition. Sahhar has been the ace all year, and Golden has worked her way into the No. 2 spot.
“What I loved is, we knew what we were going to get out of Sydnie. She did her job and then we’ve got another kid that’s just waiting to do her job. That was a luxury we have that a lot of schools don’t have,” Kaye said. “A lot of kids that aren’t confident are going to get down and they’re going to resent the fact that they have to compete. But (Meghan) told me all along, ‘I’m here when you’re ready, and I’ll do my job.'”
In the bottom of the sixth, Galvez smacked a one-out triple.
Fittingly, Meginnis allowed her team to start the celebration early. Her sacrifice fly allowed the 10-run rule to kick in.
“I think it was kind of good that we lost the first game. We showed who we actually are in the second game,” Meginnis said.