With a slew of returners from last year’s team that suffered a heartbreaking, five-game loss in the state semifinals, Mesa High entered this season as the team to beat.
The Jackrabbits lived with that target and as the top seed remain the favorites as the Division I state tournament began this weekend.
Led by senior setter/hitter J.T. Hatch, Mesa rolled to a 43-3 record during the regular season. Its two in-state losses came to Hamilton, which it also beat twice, and Boulder Creek.
After a first-round bye, the Jackrabbits opened their title approach in the second round Saturday. The quarterfinals are Tuesday, followed by the semifinals Thursday and the championship match Saturday, May 17 at Mesquite.
If the Jackrabbits are to reach the title match, they likely will have a chance to avenge that loss to Hamilton.
The Huskies are seeded fifth and could face Mesa in the semifinals.
Fourth-seeded Sandra Day O’Connor and eighth-seeded Sahuaro also are in the top half of the bracket.
In the bottom half, Cienega is the No. 2 seed, Highland is No. 3, Boulder Creek is No. 6 and Mountain View is No. 7.
Highland is the defending state champion, but likely will have to go through Boulder Creek in the quarterfinals to again reach the final.
If Red Mountain is to win a fifth straight state title, the Mountain Lions will have to claw their way out of the Division I losers’ bracket.
Chaparral sent second-seeded Red Mountain to the losers’ bracket with three runs in the fifth inning and a 5-2 win Thursday evening at the Rose Mofford Softball Complex in Phoenix.
Red Mountain must win four games to reach the championship. That path started Saturday against Millennium and will continue Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday for as long the Mountain Lions can stay alive.
Gilbert looked every bit like the top seed, beating Desert Vista 8-6 and Xavier 9-0 last week. The Tigers will face Mountain Ridge in Monday’s quarterfinals. Also in the quarterfinals are Chaparral and Sandra Day O’Connor.
Hamilton was still alive in the losers’ bracket, with a Saturday matchup against Xavier and a chance to play the Chaparral-SDO loser on Tuesday.
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