West Valley Preps
TUCSON – This time around, both teams played like champions.
Yet for the second straight year the 4A state softball championship game between Cactus and Tucson Salpointe Catholic turned on a disputed play. This year it was the final at bat, and the call on the field was debated for 10 minutes before umpires upheld it and the Lancers celebrated a 6-5 eight-inning win Tuesday night at the University of Arizona’s Hillenbrand Stadium.
With runners on first and third and one out, junior Anjolee Aguilar-Beaucage lifted a short fly to the edge of the outfield grass that sophomore second baseman Hannah DiFabio caught it with her momentum going away from home plate. Freshman Logan Cole tagged up from third base and beat the throw home for the apparent (and eventual) winning run.
However, the runner on first base left well before DiFabio’s catch (as confirmed on the broadcast of the game). This was not noticed on the field at first but a Cactus player did tag first base while Salpointe was in a celebratory heap and many of the Cobras were in disbelief between the first base line and the dugout.
Since the play was shared online, more video has been shared on Cobras players leaving the field of play (while Salpointe was celebrating down the first base line, it should be noted) and that the ball taken to tag first was not the game ball – and that these actions would constitute the end of live play. If that was the rationale of the umpires, it was not shared with Cactus coach Bartt Underwood.
“We caught it and the second baseman threw home. But that girl was off the bag. She took off running. The ball went home. They yelled safe. My catcher got upset and threw the ball – it rolled down here somewhere. My right fielder picked up the ball and touched first base. That’s a double play,” Underwood said. “They were already walking off. One umpire said, ‘It (the ball) went clear down there.’ I said, ‘Is there a rule that says the ball can’t roll all the way to the fence and it’s still a live ball?’ It is what it is.”
After a prolonged debate, the call stood and the teams received their trophies in a more muted celebration.
Dean Visser, the AIA sports administrator for softball, declined to comment on the call after the game, saying he did not have a clear view of that aspect of the play and that the final decision is in the hands of the umpires.
“I did all I could do besides get in a fight. And I can’t do that, they’d fire me. And it wouldn’t change the score of the game,” Underwood said. “We were losing 3-0 most of that game and all of a sudden we got the lead. I said, ‘you guys did exactly what I asked you to do. Make that team respect you and fight until the last play.’ And we did.”
Indeed, the Lancers looked like they would put this game away early.
In the bottom of the first inning, Lancers senior Diana Montano drove in Cole, and sophomore Kim McDaniels knocked in Montano. That gave the top seeded Salpointe a 2-0 lead, matching the score of the 2018 4A final between the same teams.
Both runs in that game came after another disputed call at first base.
Cole added an RBI single for a 3-0 Lancers lead after two.
Salpointe ace sophomore Alyssa Aguilar threw 10 straight scoreless innings in two straight title games against one of the state’s most potent offenses.
Cactus started to hone in on Aguilar in the top of the third, scored one in the fourth and grabbed the lead to start the fifth. Feringa drove in freshman Tanya Windle in the fourth.
Sophomore Grace Seale led off the fifth with a single to left and sophomore Hannah DiFabio followed by smacking a double off the left field fence. Then senior slugger Alynah Torres poked a bloop single to shallow center for an RBI.
Windle hit a two-run single back up the middle and suddenly the Cobras led 4-3.
“We could have easily folded, more than once,” Underwood said. “I always tell them this. That’s why you keep coming back. That’s why you keep playing, to compete in a game like this.”
It lasted until the bottom of the sixth, when Aguilar reached on an error. Junior pinch runner Gabriella Lopez took second on a wild pitch.
Sophomore Elise Munoz nearly tied it on a hit that was just foul. Then she did on a double to center.
Freshman Yannixa Acuna then bunted for a hit when the Cobras failed to cover first in time. That moved Munoz to third with no outs.
Junior Kayla Gonzales walked to load the bases. Cole hit a well-placed grounder near third to take the force play at home out of the equation. Salpointe took a 5-4 lead into the seventh.
“Why did we not keep the lead? We had a couple errors on plays where girls down in their lineup had not hit balls hard. All of a sudden here comes the 1, 2 and 3. They’ve got some good hitters,” Underwood said. “You can say that play (at the end) lost it. But what about those two errors we had. If we don’t make an error, we’re going to the top of the seventh with a lead.”
In the seventh Torres capped an offensive career for the ages by clubbing a leadoff triple over the head of a diving center fielder. She finished her senior season with a .653 batting average, 23 home runs and 71 RBI.
Windle hit a nubber just in front of the plate for a single, but too close for Torres to try for home. Cole Made an over-the-shoulder catch for the first out.
Junior Kaytlin Leyvas hit a sacrifice fly to deep center, allowing Torres to tie the game at five.
“I was very confident in what we do. This is my third time in the state championship game and I felt like it was my time to get one. But we fell short,” Torres said.
Feringa nearly gave the Cobras a lead, but Acuna made a difficult catch.
Now Feringa was back in the circle. In echoes of Centennial ace Sydnie Sahhar during the previous night’s 5A state title game, Feringa drew a critical eye and was called for illegal pitches in droves, nearing double digits.
Those calls evaporated in the later innings, and after allowing two runners on in the seventh, Feringa dug in for a strikeout to send it to extras.
Aguilar limited the Cobras to a Seale single in the eighth. A Gonzales slap single and Aguilar double put two Lancers in scoring position with no outs
The Salpointe runner at second then took of on contact, forcing the runner on third to try for home. She was thrown out, and then Aguilar-Beaucage stepped up to bat.
“It doesn’t matter what the scorebook said. You did everything that was asked and in my view you are champions. We know there was a call there that maybe didn’t go the right way. Do you have to have a ring on your finger to know you were a champion?” Underwood said.
Both teams have only two seniors on their rosters, so a third straight state title matchup is not a far-fetched possibility.
“We’re going to be back next year and I’m going to be getting on the girls, saying just because we don’t have Alynah and Carson (Gambs) are gone doesn’t mean we can’t make another run. It comes down to you guys learning things from experiences like this. That’s what life is about,” Underwood said.
Clearly, though, the Cobras have the biggest hole to fill. Torres has been the defensive and vocal leader for this group for years.
She heads to Arizona State with eye-popping career numbers – 64 home runs, a .602 average, 249 RBI, a 1.877 OPS and possibly most impressively, 10 career strikeouts.
“And I’ve got to say good bye to her. Which isn’t going to be easy,” Underwood said.