One hit made all the difference in Basha’s 5-3 elimination-game win over Horizon in the Division I softball state tournament at Rose Mofford Sports Complex on Wednesday night.
The No. 1-seeded Bears (32-5) advance to the big-school semifinals for the second season in a row - Basha lost in the 5A-I championship game last year to Red Mountain - and will play Glendale Mountain Ridge on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Rose Mofford.
It will be a rematch of last weekend's then-winner's bracket game, won 6-0 by Mountain Ridge. This time, the winner faces Red Mountain on Monday night for the state championship.
What began as a game with little drama changed when sophomore infielder Hailey Maher hit a grand slam, an unexpected change not unlike Wednesday's weather. In the first two innings the Bears were retired in order as Horizon starting pitcher Tamara Statman was rolling.
It all changed in the bottom of the third inning. Nicole Matta led off the inning with a single. Brittany Medina reached first on a pop up that dropped. After a pop out, Courtney Hiruko walked and that set the stage for Maher, who hit a deep shot over the centerfield fence for a 4-0 lead Basha never relinquished.
“It was a total turnaround for my team, I was excited and it got them excited.” Maher said. “I am glad I was able to play this well for my team and the most important thing is we won.”
Maher gave the Bears a 5-0 lead in the fifth inning when she scored from third on a wild pitch.
The sixth-seeded Huskies (25-10) put runners on in each of the first two innings but were never able to push any across thanks to nice defense behind Basha starting pitcher Kailey Regester. Regester settled down and did not allow a single runner to reach base the next three innings. She pitched a complete game and allowed three runs on seven hits.
Horizon scored all three of its runs in the sixth inning. Trailing 5-0, the Huskies pulled back within striking distance. With two outs, Margaret Stahm got Horizon its first hit since the second inning with a double. Sarah Gore reached on an error which allowed courtesy-runner Allison Gardener to score from second.
Gore later scored on a dropped pop-up and Megan Howard added an RBI single to bring the Huskies to within 5-3.
Regester then got her fifth strikeout of the game to end the threat with two runners on.
After a sluggish start to the season, Horizon navigated through a difficult schedule and became one of the hottest teams in the state during the final six weeks of the season behind a freshman pitcher.
The streak continued in beating Xavier and a 2-1 loss to Red Mountain, followed by a thrilling slugfest win against Peoria Centennial earlier this week.
Huskies coach Brian Casey knew his team has a lot to be proud of.
“We have a lot to keep our heads up high about," he said. "No one expected us to be here. No one had us in the top 10 to start the season. No one was talking about the Horizon Huskies. For us to put ourselves in the spot we did means a lot to the girls and means a lot to people associated with Horizon.”
Basha hopes to finish what it couldn’t last year in falling short of its championship aspirations, but coach Scott Hoffmeyer knows there's one more big game to go before getting that chance.
“We gotta win Friday, that is what we are focused on.” Hoffmeyer said. “It was a great game (Wednesday). They have a great pitcher and are a good team. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We made some mistakes to keep it close but that keeps it fun and keeps the fans around.”