When the captains and coaches met with the umpires before the Desert Vista-Pinnacle first-round matchup in the Division I state softball tournament, Pinnacle coach Ben Frank energetically welcomed the Thunder.
Had he known what was about to happen on the field, Frank might not have welcomed his team’s opponent as enthusiastically.
On the heels of scoring six runs in the first three innings, No. 20 Desert Vista (19-11, 12-6 in power rankings) held off a late Pioneer rally to cruise to a 6-3 victory Saturday on the road.
“We came out with a great strong first inning and that was huge for us,” Thunder coach Chris Crowl said. “We got the momentum, we built from there, we got a couple more runs after that (and) the defense settled in.”
For how loud the No. 13 Pioneers (20-13, 11-7) were singing in the dugout while up to bat, their bats were significantly quiet.
Much of that gets credited to the gem of a game that Desert Vista’s Danielle Block pitched.
Block pitched all seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits with four walks and eight strikeouts. Block struggled in the sixth inning in which she allowed all three of Pinnacle’s runs, but came back out in the seventh getting the last three outs of the game in quick succession.
“Dani pitched lights out,” Crowl said. “We had the little slip-up in the one inning, but she had a phenomenal game. She was huge for us today and defensively we played behind her really well.”
Block admitted she had been in a slump as of late, but she worked to bring herself out of that and her team backed her up defensively.
“We’ve been working up to this all season,” Block said. “We knew from the start that this was going to be a great season and we’ve been working our butts off and that really showed.”
Pinnacle sophomore Bailey Brennan pitched the first four innings of the game, allowing six runs on 11 hits with one walk. Freshman Peyton Mierau relieved her to pitch the last three innings, allowing only one hit with two walks and four strikeouts.
Frank was satisfied with the performance of both pitchers, saying that as good as Pinnacle’s pitching was, Desert Vista was able to take advantage with good hitting as well.
“They came out and their bats hit the ball where we weren’t,” Frank said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Pinnacle senior Alley Gens finished the game 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs, coming through in the sixth inning with a double that scored two and sparked the Pioneers’ chance at a comeback.
Throughout the entire game the Thunder proved they could battle coming back in multiple at-bats down 0-2, fouling off multiple balls and then managing to get on base. As Frank said, Desert Vista showed the ability to hit in the gaps and take advantage of opportunities with players on base.
“It was timely hitting,” Crowl said. “We came through all the way up and down the order. Everybody found a way to contribute and that’s what we’ve been preaching: Be consistent top to bottom through the lineup.”
Offensive standouts for the Thunder included senior Emily Panther, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored, and sophomore Michaela Duarte, who also went 2-for-4 and scored two runs.
Desert Vista faces No. 4 Gilbert on the road in the second round of the state tournament on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
“We’ve been working really hard on knowing the situation and taking away a critical hit or a critical at-bat, so that’s what we’re going to keep working on,” Crowl said.