West Valley Preps
Horizon’s three home runs during Tuesday’s 5A winners bracket semifinal against Willow Canyon accounted for only four of the Huskies 11 runs.
But the timing of those blasts could not have been better. Senior pitcher Morgan Leinstock uncorked a solo home run to center to lead off the bottom of the second – just after Willow Canyon tied the game at 4 in the top half of the inning.
“That was good for her because she was a little uncertain of what she was going to do. We knew we were going to hit well,” Horizon coach Jackie Coburn said.
Then the ASU-bound Leinstock entered in relief of senior Gabby Cronin and allowed the potent Wildcats offense only one more run. No. 5 seed Horizon (20-6) kept hitting and making Willow Canyon pay for its mistakes in an 11-5 win.
“We went with Gabby, who has a little bit different action than Morgan. We weren’t getting any of those calls – they weren’t calling anything up. Morgan is more of a drop ball down pitcher and I knew if we brought her in, that game would change,” Coburn said.
Horizon remains undefeated in the playoffs and needs only one win Saturday to reach the state final at ASU’s Farrington Stadium Monday night. The Huskies will play the winner Thursday’s game between of No. 9 Willow Canyon (25-9-1) and No. 3 Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge (22-6).
Then, the winner of that would have to beat Horizon twice Saturday to deny it a place at state.
“We’re a little superstitious right now, which is kind of fun. We eat certain things for lunch. Tomorrow we’re going to go back a little bit more defensively and kind of go over some things we kind of miscued today. But we want to keep it simple and enjoy the ride,” Coburn said.
Tuesday was mostly enjoyable after Wildcats freshman second baseman Alannah Rogers scored thanks to an error on senior catcher Mashayla Beltran’s ground ball.
The Huskies struck back quickly. An error, plus a RBI single from sophomore third baseman Spencer Prigge made it 2-1.
A ground out sent home the third run and an RBI single from Cronin capped the first inning.
This error and others to follow were Willow Canyon coach Donnie Tizzano’s main takeaway on the night. For one of the rare times this year, a team that starts as many as six freshman played young.
“We struggled a lot more defensively than I thought we would. It was probably the worst defensive game we’ve played this year,” Tizzano said. “These girls play a lot of competitive club and they’re in championship games. Here you play your entire season for one tournament. I think the moment did get a little bit big for us.”
At first it seemed Willow Canyon would simply hit its way back into it. Beltran capped a second-inning rally by smacking a two-run double for a 4-4 tie.
Leinstock smashed her deep drive but freshman relief pitcher Gabby Sublasky settled down the Huskies until there were two outs in the third. Then junior Meredith Tutrone hit a home runn nearly as hard to almost the same spot over the center field netting for a 6-4 lead.
“Once we get rolling, we’re hard to stop. I think what stopped it was, they did a great job of answering every time we scored. And they answered with the long ball. When you hit the long ball and you hit them as hard as they hit them, it’s a little bit deflating,” Tizzano said.
The final long ball was the death blow. Prigge hit a two-run tater in the bottom of the fourth for a 9-4 advantage.
Coburn said despite her youth, Prigge is already one of the Huskies best all-around players and leaders.
Tizzano said his team would have been in that game if they played better defensively. But, he said, Horizon deserves credit for seizing on their mistakes.
The Wildcats only scored one run in the final two innings but strung together better at bats and may have gained some momentum for Thursday.
“I was happy with the way they bounced back in the sixth and seventh. It looked like we had energy, even though we’re down six,” Tizzano said.