West Valley Preps
The first 19 home runs were pretty special. The 20th was something to preserve on video to show her future kids.
Centennial’s softball season hung in the balance and Saturday’s game was a scoreless tie. Tucson Empire intentionally walked senior Hailey Galvez to load the bases with Dren Meginnis coming up.
Meginnis belted a grand slam over the left field fence. Her 20th home run of the season – two more than her career total entering the year – propelled the Coyotes to their first state finals in nine years.
“I’m always No. 3 now and it helps so much. As far as the home runs, I didn’t expect it and my bat has been so hot. My team motivates me,” Meginnis said earlier this week. “It’s kind of hard to pitch around us. Our whole lineup can hit and there’s so many different things we can do. Being in the 3 spot has given me more confidence.”
Now Centennial is one win away from the goal it set this time a year ago, when the Coyotes lost a 12-inning heartbreaker to eventual champ Vail Cienega.
No. 2 Centennial (21-6) faces No. 3 Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge (25-6) for the 5A state title at 5:30 p.m. Monday in ASU’s Farrington Stadium.
“A state title would probably make this organization known. There’s always people trying to tear us down, they don’t know we’re that good until they show up,” Meginnis said.
Even though her season would pique the interest of major Division I schools, Meginnis said she remains committed to Division II Western New Mexico.
As of now, she plans on studying psychology, though that might change.
“When I went on my visit, all the girls made it feel like home. I loved the environment there,” Meginnis said.
And she said she loves getting a chance to continue playing the only sport that has made an impact with her.
She started T-ball at age 6 and, by her own account, became bored with it fairly quickly. An early start in softball beckoned.
“I’ve never tried any other sports,” Meginnis said.
She went to Centennial in the fall of 2015 with several other heralded freshman. In 2016, which would be Mike Repak’s final season as head coach, the Coyotes finished 13-12.
Meginnis immediately stepped in as that team’s No. 2 run producer, batting .390 with three home runs and 12 RBI.
“The talent was there. We just didn’t have someone to lead us there,” Meginnis said. “Looking back it’s kind of crazy to see how much we’ve grown. We are actually really good now.”
The maturation of Meginnis and classmates Makenzie Celaya, Hailey Galvez and Sydnie Sahhar is a major factor in the Coyotes’ return to prominence. Randy Kaye’s arrival as coach in 2017 also helped.
Meginnis plays in the local branch of the Firecrackers club but it has two elite teams and hers was the one not coached by Kaye.
He said when he was hired, he knew of her but never met her or saw her play much. Kaye said he invited Meginnis to become one of the program leaders, even as a sophomore.
“She was athletic and strong but most of all she seemed to be tough. She reminded me of one of those kids you grew up with in the neighborhood that was just good at anything they played. Neighborhood wiffle ball or football games in the street, basketball in the driveway or at the park. She was probably one of the best at all of those games,” Kaye stated in an email. “You can see it, it just translates. She is an athlete.”
For the next two years she was the Coyotes’ leadoff hitter. Meginnis led the 2017 Coyotes with seven home runs and 28 RBI.
She also, as Kaye stated, put up this shell and was very selective on who she will let in.
“She is a confident kid who wants you to think she doesn’t care but she does. She will call out players if she needs to or just lead by example, she shows up every day and puts in the work so that says a lot to her teammates,” Kaye stated.
With her classmates improving, younger players stepping up and Sahhar returning from a sophomore year injury, the Coyotes suddenly transformed from a 14-17 team in 2017 to a 5A title contender.
Cienega would win the championship, but not before losing 2-1 to Centennial and being pushed to 12 innings in a 2-1 victory.
“Last year it clicked out of nowhere. We lost more games last year than we did this year, but once the playoffs started, something clicked. We didn’t want to lose. We wanted to go to state,” Meginnis said. “Losing hurt us a lot last year. We’ve only been getting stronger and our practices have been better and more fun.”
Pitching came more naturally to her in youth softball, and Meginnis threw 15 innings of relief this season.
But a new role in the lineup and increased confidence in her batting allowed her to make the leap from very good to elite slugger as a senior.
Kaye said she led off at times because she can impact a game with one swing.
“I think she has grown as a hitter in the past year. Some of that is just experience and the game slowing down but we have also incorporated some different things in our practices to work on specific details. Even though she was good returning player she has been open to all instruction and has bought in one hundred percent on training,” Kaye stated. “I am not at all surprised with her numbers, her approach is consistent in getting into a good balanced positions and she has done a great job of seeing the ball long and swinging at good pitches.”
Kaye stated that her importance as Centennial’s shortstop is even greater than her power numbers or pitching ability.
“She can throw the ball in the low 60s and you could make an argument that she should get the ball more but we are better with her leadership at shortstop. She makes sure that everyone is in the right place. She has a strong arm, very good range, runs well, she is vocal and her game IQ is elite so she is never out of position,” Kaye stated.
While the Coyotes have been on a mission all year, it has not been a grim title or bust scenario.
Meginnis said she will remember the fun of the 2019 season the most as she prepares for college.
“I think the best part of our games is us in the dugout. We’re such a hyped team and we do the most fun stuff. We have pool noodles and wear little leis. It all comes together but it starts in the dugout,” Meginnis said.