The thing many forget when state playoffs begin is it’s a “new season.”
Every team that qualifies is 0-0. Those with gaudy records, 20-win seasons or region titles are not invincible.
The casualties from Round 1 of the 5A state baseball and softball tournaments this past Saturday included defending 5A-I softball champ Phoenix St. Mary’s; No. 2 5A-I baseball seed Mesa Red Mountain; No. 3 5A-I baseball seed Chandler Basha; No. 5 5A-I baseball seed Phoenix Brophy; No. 4 5A-II baseball seed Mesa Desert Ridge; and No. 5 5A-II baseball seed Yuma Kofa.
There were a number of close calls for other high seeds as well. No. 1 5A-I baseball seed Mesa Mountain View (eight-run sixth), No. 4 5A-I baseball seed Chandler Hamilton (seven-run sixth), No. 2 5A-II baseball seed Scottsdale Horizon (five-run fifth) and No. 2 5A-I softball seed Tempe Corona del Sol (six-run sixth) all needed huge rallies late to break open or come from behind in what figured to be routine wins.
“It’s not easy being a high seed,” Horizon coach Eric Kibler said. “A lower seeded team usually comes in loose. They have nothing to lose. Sometimes — a lot of times — the toughest game to win in the state tournament is the first one.”
Hamilton coach Mike Woods seconds the notion. The Huskies were hanging on to a 4-3 lead over Metro Region champ Phoenix North Canyon in the top of the sixth. Pitcher Matt Helm pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-one out jam in that frame to preserve the slim lead. The Huskies, who had slugged three home runs to that point, hit a couple more in the bottom of the inning and scored seven times to subdue the Rattlers.
“We played very poorly,” Woods said, referring mainly to his club’s five errors. “We were able to outhit our mistakes.”
Meanwhile, the seedings held up in softball. There were only two “upsets” in 5A-II on Saturday: No. 9 Tucson Ironwood Ridge beat No. 8 Glendale Ironwood and No. 10 Phoenix Pinnacle knocked off No. 7 Mesa Desert Ridge, neither of which were shocking.
The only hiccup — and it was a big one — was Salpointe and St. Mary’s.
Both teams managed just two hits in their first-round game won by Salpointe, 1-0. The Lancers made the most of their final hit. Salpointe freshman Kristi Gragg doubled off St. Mary’s ace Dallas Escobedo in the top of the seventh. She then stole third and shocked the Knights by stealing home.
Chandler Seton Catholic girls basketball coach Karen Self received the Spirit of Cotton Award on Sunday prior to Game 4 of the Suns’ playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs.
The award is given annually by the Suns to a high school coach and includes a $10,000 donation for the school.
COMPLETING THE CYCLE
Mesa Westwood senior Daniel Zapata got to play one more inning last Thursday when the Warriors and Phoenix St. Mary’s were summoned to finish a tie game from mid-March. The teams had played to a 10-all tie on March 14 and the game was suspended at the time due to darkness.
Westwood coach Brian Stephenson allowed Zapata to catch the 11th inning of that game, which he did and thus ended up playing every position on the field in his four-year prep career. Zapata had to scramble to find shin guards that fit to play the position but was able to secure them.
Westwood took 10 minutes to beat St. Mary’s, 11-10, in 11 innings on a sacrifice fly by Marshall Davis. It took St. Mary’s an estimated 90 minutes to drive back and forth from central Phoenix for the resumption of the game.
Tribune writers Mark Heller and Matt Paulson contributed to this report