There was something sophomoric about Centennial’s win Wednesday.
That’s to say a pair of sophomores – Abigail Beasley and Samantha Munoz – bailed out the Coyotes in a 2-1 win against 5A-II Desert West rival Ironwood (7-5-1, 4-1). The win pushed the Eagles back a game in the region as Centennial (17-4, 5-0) took sole possession of first place.
Beasley figured in both Coyote runs. She pulled a 1-out, 1-and-2 pitch to the left field wall and scored the tying run with two outs in the seventh on Munoz’s single, then battled the Eagles’ ace Jessica Belsterling in the 13th inning. The sophomore center fielder fouled off six pitches in the at bat before the Ironwood senior sailed a rise ball over catcher Nikki Power’s head, allowing junior Krystal Garcia to score the winning run.
“When Abby scored that run (in the seventh) I could see the seniors on our bench sigh in relief,” Underwood said. “I tell the girls it can’t always be the top of the lineup that gets the team going.”
Beasley didn’t limit her heroics to just offense, either. With Eagles’ senior Celina Lizarraga, running for Belsterling after she reached on an error to lead off the 13th, on second after a sacrifice bunt Ashley Eaves singled up the middle. Beasley charged the grounder, fielded it cleanly and fired a strike to catcher Paige Tonz who blocked the plate and applied the tag. On the throw home Eaves advanced to second and sophomore Alexis Geiser followed with another base hit up the middle. Beasley charged again and Ironwood coach Tim Langan kept Eaves at third where she’d be stranded on batter later.
“When you’re going up against Morgan (Montemayor) you have to take some chances and capitalize on your opportunities because you’re not going to get many,” Langan said. “Those are probably two of the best pitchers in the state, so you have to be aggressive at the plate and on the bases.”
Both pitchers went the distance with Belsterling striking out nine and allowing just five hits while Montemayor fanned eight and gave up 11 hits.
”I’ve never been in a 13-inning game, my arm’s a little sore but that was a lot of fun,” said the Centennial senior pitcher.
Belsterling found her groove through the middle innings, retiring 10 straight Coyotes before Tonz stroked an opposite field single with one out in the sixth.
”When you know you’re facing a pitcher as good as Belsterling you have to shorten your swing sometimes and try to slap the ball the other way,” Underwood said. “If you watched how (Ironwood) went after Mo they just shortened up and put the bat on the ball. I told my girls ‘sometimes that’s what needs to be done.’”
The Centennial hitters adjusted later in the game. Early on Belsterling went to the outside to finish off hitters, however, by the sixth Coyote hitters were quickly taking that pitch and trying to push it to the opposite field.
Montemayor took a little longer to get into rhythm. She gave up a 1-out home run to Eaves to put the Eagles ahead in the second and had to pitch out of a bases loaded, 1-out jam in the third before getting Belsterling to fly out to center and prompting Powers to ground out to Samantha Riojas to end the threat.
The Eagles’ game plan at the plate was to attack Montemayor early in the count. That was evident in the pitch count numbers where 10 Ironwood batters connected on the first pitch and just four hitters saw five or more pitches through the first seven innings.
“I told the team to swing free, and that was probably the best we’ve hit the ball this season,” Langan said. “Today the girls showed they have confidence in their offense. We did a good job putting the ball in play and taking short strokes.”
Montemayor was able to settle down somewhat by making adjustments with help from her catcher, Tonz.
“I was having trouble getting my curve and rise ball to move,” said the senior. “So, Paige and I talked about what was working and what wasn’t and we adjusted. Later on my change and screwball were my best pitches. We kind of waited before throwing the change up because I didn’t want their hitters to get used to seeing it.”
Underwood said he’d like to have seen his ace go to her change up a little earlier especially since she had some success with the pitch in the Desert Mountain Invitational.
“Sometimes Mo gives up a few hits because she sticks with a pitch that’s not working,” Underwood said. “Today she realized what was working and what wasn’t and adjusted later on, especially with her change up, which she used to win the Desert Mountain tournament.”
The Coyotes had a chance to tie the game in the second as Beasley led off with a single up the middle and Montemayor reached on a hit by pitch. But Munoz bunted to Ironwood third baseman Ashtin Triguerros who turned and threw to Eaves to force Beasley at third. Centennial second baseman Sydney Kamarata followed with another bunt and Triguerros again went to Eaves at third for the out. Belsterling then got Bryanna Navarro to line out to Eaves to end the Coyotes’ scoring opportunity.
With the feel of a heavyweight title fight, both coaches agreed Wednesday’s battle had the feel of a state tournament game.
“I hope this was a preview of a state tournament game,” Langan said. “Because today I think we proved we could play with anyone and the girls are believing that now.”