Call it delayed gratification.
It took a 40-minute wait — courtesy of one of the wildest softball state championship games ever in Division II between Tucson Canyon del Oro and Peoria Sunrise Mountain — and another two hours of tight strike zones and runners on every-which-base, but Red Mountain unofficially became a dynasty.
The Lions won a third consecutive softball state championship in a 5-2 victory against Basha on Monday night in a matchup of the two proverbial favorites and winningest programs at the big school level in Arizona. The Lions are the first Division I/Class 5A level school to win three consecutive championships.
Whether it’s fair or accurate to call the Lions’ run a dynasty is up for debate, and it’s one of a few water-cooler topics from the 2012 season, with a quick nod to 2013.
Before we recap and recount all of the spring sports’ state tournament silliness later this week — we have to wait a day or two for baseball to crown its champions — let’s start with softball.
After all, celebrations are almost always short-lived. One season’s high school trophy presentations are club ball’s preseason practices.
What’s in a dynasty?
After Monday night’s victory, a few Red Mountain seniors and underclassmen alike acknowledged they never really pictures two or three state titles in their high school careers was anything of an expectation when they began high school. Lions coach Rich Hamilton also disagreed with the “dynasty” notion, saying that implies the same core group of players every year, whereas high school rosters undergo significant changes every spring.
“We don’t use that word,” he said. “We start over every year and try to build and re-build. We try to get it done like this every year, and it’s been working so that’s what we’ll do.”
A fair point, but dynasties can also relate to a program, similar to how schools and coaches like to say the program comes before any individual kids.
You be the judge.
Either way, Red Mountain and two-time state runners up Basha (which was a two-time state champion in the late 2000s) have a stranglehold on Arizona’s big-school softball for the past six years.
Who might loosen that grip?
Let’s keep this to East Valley schools in the interest of brevity. Both Red Mountain and Basha will be good again, as the Lions lose five seniors (including the top three in its lineup) to graduation, while Basha loses only three (albeit three crucial pieces from the past couple years of success).
Horizon loses three key players as well, including one of the best in school history in Nicole Newbury, but cleanup hitter Margaret Stahm and freshman pitcher/leadoff hitter Tamara Statman will be back. The Huskies are a popular early pick to make another deep run. So, too, can Xavier. The Gators were extremely young this season, and after being one of the best teams in the state through late April, Xavier made a nice run in the tournament (again) before running into Basha. The 2013 roster figures to be loaded with sophomores and juniors. Desert Mountain, Pinnacle, Chaparral and Gilbert are always solid; the usual cast of characters.
Who else to watch in ‘13
The Chandler schools. Perry will lose senior Mandi Grebe, a captain and big part of the Pumas lineup, but that’s it. Jillian Leslie should return to the circle and the middle of the order to lead a Perry team that was heavy on juniors and sophomores this season, but was a run away from beating Basha early in the state tournament.
Hamilton knew pitching was going to be a problem from the onset of 2012, and it was. The Huskies were a shell of the team that made a memorable state tournament run in 2011, but Keith Householder’s team has a core of Sam Reynolds, Christine Olivas, Jalyn Schollmeyer and Maddie McAfee coming back, and he’s high on the incoming freshman class.
Mountain View loses a core group of Aly Ramsaier, Kelli Wickerman and Amy Tarnowski graduate, but the Toros’ Val Kaff and Sid Ryan will return. If the Toros’ sophomores continue to evolove and they can find a second pitcher to help cut down on Kaff’s innings, Joe Goodman’s team should compete.
Desert Vista loses its cleanup hitter in Emily Panther, but the Thunder also return everyone else. Corona del Sol loses the likes of Abbey Spiel, Nicole Giannonatti, Leah Kroger and Paige Vallejos, but if the Aztecs ever stay reasonably healthy in the pitching circle ...
What will change?
Aside from the usual wins, losses, players, a few coaches, standings and possibly state champions, not much figures to alter significantly in the sport’s bigger picture.
The big change a majority of softball coaches (and it goes way beyond softball) want to see is a change in the computerized schedules for power point games.
Schools want either more “freedom” games coaches can schedule amongst themselves. Or, if sections will still exist, a move to play everyone (or almost everyone) in each school’s section once, rather than playing twice against half the teams in a school’s section.
It’s a distinct possibility, but changes wouldn’t arrive until at least the 2013-2014 school year.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.