West Valley Preps
Just what a stacked Cactus lineup returning senior Emilie Guerra, junior Alynah Torres and sophomore Kaitlyn Leyvas needed … another elite bat.
And, just what a Cobras pitching corps bringing batch its top two pitchers needed … another arm capable of being an ace.
Yet freshman McKenna “Bub” Feringa has been both for the 22-3 Cobras this season, and the phenom was the difference Thursday in a typically tense showdown between Cactus and Sunrise Mountain.
Her introduction to the rivalry, on the field at least, came on the road and in a windstorm. Yet Feringa pitched a complete game, scattering five hits, and drove in two runs – or three depending on how you score her third-inning hit plus a fielding error that scored Leyvas – in the 4-1 win.
“Emilie Guerra is having a hell of a year. Her and Bub are tied in RBIs,” Cactus coach Bartt Underwood said. “(Today) I asked the girls if we had to bunt to put runners in scoring position. But we did keep getting people on and Bub had a couple nice hits and Alynah had a nice hit. There are games where Alynah’s getting nothing to hit and they won’t throw to Bub and Emilie’s popped up twice, yet Kaytlin is 4-4 and Aubrey (Chavez) is 3-3.”
Cactus ran its regular season record to 13-0 and likely increased its cushion atop the 4A rankings. No. 4 ranked Sunrise Mountain dropped to 13-2 on the regular season and 18-3 overall but gave its rival something only one other 4A team has – a challenge.
In their first 10 regular season games, the Cobras obliterated overmatched opposition by a combined score of 151-3. Though Greenway is in a down year, Ed McQuade’s prideful program gave Cactus a test in a 6-1 loss that Underwood said was closer than the score suggests.
Greenway also pushed Sunrise Mountain in a 3-2 Mustangs win March 27.
The home team was looking for more than a close call Thursday. And coach Jody Pruitt said sophomore pitcher Kylee Messmer deserved a better shot at a win based on how well she threw.
“Kylee did in a great job. In fact, if you look on paper, four runs is not justifiable to how well she did,” Pruitt said. “We didn’t take care of the softball in a few innings. Now we’re facing the top of the lineup sooner. The wind was obviously a ruckus, and Kylee’s a pitcher that’s going to get us pop-ups.”
Messmer picked up a strikeout to escape in the top of the first, with two Cobras in scoring position thanks to a fielding error in left.
Torres smacked a one-out double to the left field corner in the top of the third. Sophomore Aubrey Chavez’s sacrifice bunt moved her over and Leyvas drove her in on a single up the middle.
Feringa followed with a base hit to left and Leyvas, running on contact, came all the way home.
“It’s great. We did have a game like that last week at Greenway. It was a lot closer than 6-1. But this was a little more intense and a little closer,” Underwood said. “So it was good.”
Almost immediately, the home team cut its deficit in half. Junior Dallis Mitchell was hit by a pitch and Messmer drove a RBI double to deep center field with one out.
But Feringa picked up a ground ball out and Messmer was caught in a rundown between second and third.
In each of the last three times at bat, the Mustangs started with promise but saw a rally short circuited by a double play turned by Cactus middle infielders Torres and Nicole Osteen.
“A lot of people don’t talk about this, but we don’t have many errors this year. We turn quite a few double plays. And I’ve played Nicole at third base a lot this year and played my freshman center fielder Hannah DiFabio at second,” Underwood said.
Sophomore Kaiulani Nowell started the fifth with a nubber that dropped between three Mustangs and Torres drilled a single off Messmer’s leg.
The pitcher stayed in and picked up two quick outs before Feringa’s double to the base of the fence in right put the visitors up 4-1.
Neither team plays a game before they square off again at Cactus Tuesday afternoon. Pruitt hopes her team is more decisive in its at bats.
“We took a lot of passive swings. I’m hoping that Tuesday comes around we take more aggressive swings at the plate,” Pruitt said.
Of course, given the ability of all three Cactus starters, there is no guarantee the Mustangs see Feringa again. Sophomore Cassie Elliott may not be back from an injury in five days.
But Guerra has the most big-game experience of any Cobra hurler.
“Emilie beat them twice last year. But I’ve also got (Bub) and Cassie, and Cassie’s hurt right now. Up until last Thursday against Greenway, there was one inning difference between all three of my pitchers,” Underwood said. “I tell them I have a short leash. If you throw three pitches in one inning that are hit hard I’m making a change.”
Sunrise Mountain started a lineup Thursday with two seniors, two juniors, four sophomores and one freshman.
After struggling early with some narrow wins and losses to Boulder Creek and Centennial, one of Pruitt’s youngest teams appears to be playing closer to its potential.
“We’re learning the game and understanding how Sunrise Mountain plays softball. We’re young, and (many players) haven’t been around what Sunrise Mountain softball does – and we do things different,” Pruitt said. “We’re just now starting to get on that same page. I think that as we continue to build on that, you’re going to see better softball out of us.”