Salpointe converts gift into 2-0 title win over Cactus

Salpointe Catholic's Alyssa Ortiz scores on an RBI triple by teammate Yannira Acuna as Cactus sophomore catcher Kayt Leyvas looks for the throw to the plate during the sixth inning of the 4A girls state championship softball game at Farrington Stadium on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Tempe. [Ralph Freso/For West Valley Preps]

Matt Loeschman
West Valley Preps

TEMPE — In a matchup of two of Arizona’s best prep softball hurlers — Tucson Salpointe Catholic freshman Alyssa Aguilar and Cactus freshman McKenna “Bub” Feringa — runs were at a premium in the 4A state championship game.

But it’s a botched umpiring call that is going to stick in the back of the Cactus Cobras’ collective minds until they take the diamond again next spring.

Using the momentum of that crucial missed call, the #5 Tucson Salpointe Catholic Lancers broke loose in the sixth inning to claim a 2-0 championship victory over the #3 Cactus Cobras on Tuesday night at Farrington Stadium.

“The call at first base helped us lose the game,” Cactus Head Coach Bartt Underwood lamented. “Their best hitter was up next and if the bases were empty we could’ve walked her. That safe call hurt but we missed chances so I’m not saying that one call cost us the game — but it definitely helped them.”

Lancers Head Coach Amy Baray-Rocha said her team took advantage of every opportunity afforded them.

“It’s a game of inches and that’s what it came down to tonight,” Baray-Rocha said. “Hats off to our girls for their situational hitting. They came up big.”

The controversial play occurred in the top of the sixth inning of a scoreless game being dominated in the circle by both freshmen.

The Lancers’ Alyssa Ortiz laid down a bunt to start the frame. Cactus gobbled up the ball and threw to first base in plenty of time.

Inexplicably, Ortiz was called safe although she appeared out by at least a step. A large Cactus contingent in the stands howled their disapproval.

The young Cobras then seemed to lose their composure. Yannira Acuna followed with a line-drive triple over Cactus left fielder Kai Nowell’s head. Ortiz scored and the Cobras overthrew home, allowing Acuna to race all the way in to make it 2-0.

Malaea Rocha, the coach’s daughter, followed with a single that was misplayed in center field allowing Rocha to scamper around to third base. Feringa battled back to retire three tough hitters consecutively to keep the deficit at two runs.

But the two-run sixth was too much to overcome as Aguilar was in complete control out in the circle.

Cactus 3B Aubrey Chavez tries to make a play on an infield hit by Salpointe Catholic during the fifth inning of the 4A girls state championship softball game at Farrington Stadium on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Tempe. [Ralph Freso/for West Valley Preps]
Feringa was also dominating early, mowing down the potent Lancers lineup (hitting .403 as a team this season) with ease. She pitched three perfect innings to start while inducing five strikeouts — four looking. Aguilar stranded a pair of Cobras runners in scoring position in the first three frames.

The first serious threat by either team occurred in the Cactus third. Nowell led off with a sharp single up the middle. Sophomore Kayt Leyvas popped out and Aubrey Chavez’s long fly was corralled in deep center by Acuna. With two down, Alynah Torres ripped a ringing double to the right-center power alley. The ball was hit so hard that Underwood was forced to hold Nowell at third base.

“I put up the stop sign at the very last second,” the Cactus head coach explained.

Aguilar responded with a clutch strikeout of Emilie Guerra to end the threat and keep the game scoreless.

“I told our girls that Aguilar was not going to throw a ball down the middle — it’s not going to happen,” Underwood said. “She was smart tonight and her changeup kept us off-balance.”

Salpointe Catholic (33-4-1) finally ended Feringa’s perfection in the top of the fourth as Rocha squibbed a roller about five feet in front of home plate. Feringa had set down 10 in a row prior to the infield hit but the Cactus pitcher retired the next two batters to keep it 0-0 in the middle of the fourth.

The Cobras looked to dent the scoreboard in their half of the fourth. They hit the ball sharply three times but excellent Lancer defense left Cactus (30-5) frustrated as the game remained scoreless.

“Alyssa (Aguilar) knows her defense has her back and they got the job done tonight,” Baray-Rocha said.

Aguilar (1.33 ERA) seemed to be getting stronger as the game went along. She retired the final 13 Cactus batters she faced and looked effortless doing it. When the Cobras’ Hannah DiFabio was set down to end the game, the celebration was on for Salpointe Catholic.

Aguilar (7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) took the complete-game win to move to 14-3 while Feringa (14-2) was tagged with the tough-luck defeat.

Leyvas, Nowell and Torres tallied Cactus’ only three hits of the night.

Following the contest, the Lancers’ lifted the last girls championship trophy handed out by the Arizona Interscholastic Association this spring. They danced and yelled with joy while Cactus was predictably subdued as they accepted the runner-up trophy.

“Winning a state championship in any sport is not easy,” Underwood said.

The title win was the Lancers’ 27th victory in their last 29 outings. The Lancers had to beat top seed and defending state champion Canyon del Oro twice to reach the final. They won their third overall softball championship, adding to hardware earned in 1993 and 1996. Baray-Rocha was a catcher on that 1996 title team.

“I just wanted the girls to have fun tonight and they definitely did,” the Lancers head coach said.

The Cobras were denied their seventh softball title. They last celebrated a championship in 2006.

But with both young squads returning most of their respective teams next season, no one will be surprised if the Lancers and Cobras battle for another crown a year from now.

“This team gave me everything they had and I’m proud of them,” Underwood said. “And we’ve got only two starters graduating so I think we can work a little harder and finish on the other end of this outcome.”

Cactus players watch from the dugout as they are down to their final out in a 2-0 loss to Salpointe Catholic during the 4A girls state championship softball game at Farrington Stadium on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Tempe. [Ralph Freso/For West Valley Preps]

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