West Valley Preps
In a softball pitcher’s duel, every moment is magnified. That goes double for a playoff elimination game.
Buckeye Verrado senior Reina Kelley and Centennial Sydnie Sahhar were in control for all but one inning of Tuesday night’s 5A softball clash at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix. Coyote sophomore Aubrey Maya came up with the crucial hit to drive in two runs.
But the small, crucial difference in the contest was Centennial junior catcher Makenzie Celeya, whose arm proved the difference in the 2-1 victory. Celaya threw out base runners in the first, fifth and seventh innings – effectively ending three Viper rallies before they started.
“Honestly, I don’t remember trying to steal bases. that much,” Celaya said. “I was not expecting that all. I thought she was going to be back easily.”
The landmark win sends #6 seed Centennial (23-9-1) to the final four for the first time since 2010, when the Peoria school won its lone state title.
To get back to the finals, the Coyotes now must beat the defending 5A champs – twice. #3 Vail Cienega (27-5) plays Centennial at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Mofford, and again at 7:30 Friday if the Coyotes has win.
“Their mindset has been to where they really think they can do it. When they went to Cienega for the playoff game, it was big. But they settled in really well. The Poston Butte win was good because of the quality of the pitcher,” Kaye said.”We’ve done a lot with two outs.”
Junior Bianca Worthy hit an infield single to open the game, only for Celaya to throw her out trying to steal second. No. 7 Verrado (22-9), in effect, went down 1-2-3.
Sahhar allowed a single in the second inning and another in the fifth but neither Verrado runner got into scoring position.
“I thought, trust myself and trust God, I have my team behind me. I have an amazing catcher in Kenzie,” Sahhar said.
Meanwhile, Kelley moved down the Coyotes’ lineup and carried a perfect game into the third batter of the fourth inning – Sahhar. She hit a single deep in the hole at short and just beat out the throw to first.
Junior pinch runner Natalie Vasquez took second on a wild pitch, then senior Caitlyn Swisher and junior Hailey Galvez walked to load the bases.
Maya was up next and had a plan after making good contact in the second inning on a fly ball that was chased down, This time she poked a two-run single just inside the first base line in shallow center.
“I scooted up to the plate, because if it was outside, I would be able to reach it.” Maya said. “I was nervous. If I didn’t get this, it was on me. I heard (Coach Kaye) say outside zone was in my hands, and I shortened up.
Trailing 2-0, Verrado’s Kalynn Worthy hit a single in the fifth. But Celaya picked off her pinch runner at first and that inning fizzled.
The Vipers made their charge in the sixth. Junior Audriana Attleberger led off by reaching on an error and Bianca Worthy added a single.
Sophomore Bella Pantoja hit an RBI single to left field. Sahhar shut down the threat with two fly outs.
Kelley walked to lead off the seventh. Junior Amanda Andrus came in to run for her and took off for second on a dropped ball But Celaya gunned her down at second.
“Kenzie’s got the green light to throw people out,” Kaye said “It has been a complete buy in to what we wish to do. They believe and play for each other.”
Sahhar then picked up two quick outs to end it.
As a freshman, the pitcher threw two quality games in the 2016 Division I playoffs. She then missed the entire 2017 season with a back injury, and said pitching big in big playoff matchups at Mofford this week has been a dream come true.
“It is so much fun. I’ve said since my freshman year that I wasn’t to play under the lights at Rose Mofford,” Sahhar said. “This team has always had so much potential and it’s awesome to finally be able to show it. We’re not done yet, though.”