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Verrado’s great season comes to an end

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Casey Pritchard's picture
VERRADO’S SHEA SMITH bats Wednesday against Canyon del Oro. Smith had three hits in the game for the Lady Vipers but it was not enough to avert a season-ending 8-5 loss to the Lady Dorados. View photo by Ray Thomas
VERRADO’S SHEA SMITH bats Wednesday against Canyon del Oro. Smith had three hits in the game for the Lady Vipers but it was not enough to avert a season-ending 8-5 loss to the Lady Dorados. View photo by Ray Thomas

Lady Vipers fall 8-5 to Canyon del Oro

Tears on the faces of Verrado’s players told the story Wednesday night at Rose Mofford Softball Complex, as the Lady Vipers’ magical season came to an end earlier than desired.

Top-seeded Verrado made a valiant comeback attempt against No. 7 Oro Valley Canyon del Oro, but the Lady Dorados prevailed 8-5, ending the Lady Vipers’ season in the losers' bracket semifinals of the Division II double-elimination state tournament.

The four seniors that started with me built the program, they built us from a one-win team to a 28-win team, so it’s difficult to see the season end, that’s what makes it hard,” Verrado coach Rich Stringer said. “I wanted to see them have the opportunity to play the final game of the season, that’s been our goal all year long, we’ve worked really hard for it, so it’s difficult. To look at those girls’ faces, it hurts. I would have done anything to give them that opportunity.”

Verrado (28-4-1) excited the crowd with a four-run fifth inning to even the score at 4-4, but the Lady Vipers couldn’t hold down a potent Canyon del Oro offense. The Lady Dorados (27-7) clubbed 12 hits and drew five walks, constantly putting pressure on Verrado. Their two runs in the sixth would be the difference in the game.

They’re a good-hitting team, we knew it coming in,” Stringer said. “They really swing the bats well and we knew it was going to be a game where we felt we had to outscore them. Maybe if [pitcher] Morgan [Brown] had a little more rest it would have been different, but we didn’t have that luxury. It was a tough path we had to take, they had the same path, and they were the better team today.”

Brown threw 132 pitches, after she had thrown a combined 225 in Monday and Tuesday’s games. The five walks were uncharacteristic of Brown.

She [umpire] wasn’t giving me anything,” Brown said. “She wasn’t giving me low, wasn’t giving me the corners. I feel like she was a major factor in us losing because she extended some innings that shouldn’t have been extended.”

Verrado also didn’t help itself out in the field, making a couple of critical errors that led to three unearned runs. Defense has been a strong suit of the Lady Vipers all year.

It was all the little things that killed us this game,” shortstop Shea Smith said. “I think it was the stress – I don’t even know what happened. All the little errors that happened were big reasons they scored. The home run killed us. Every time we had a bunch of energy was when we started to come back, but we couldn’t show it on the field.”

Canyon del Oro went out 1-2-3 in the first inning, but that was the only frame in which the Lady Dorados failed to put at least two runners on base.

In the second, Samantha Nettling launched a two-run homer to left, putting Canyon del Oro on top, 2-0. The Lady Dorados scored single runs in the fourth and fifth, one coming on a wild pitch and the other on a sacrifice fly, making it 4-0. That’s when Verrado got back into the game, scoring four times in the bottom of the fifth.

We were kind of going through the motions early in the game, but once we got inspired a little bit they really did battle and show great heart, great effort,” Stringer said. “They showed a lot of character, they always do.”

Four-run fifth

Stephanie Pinson opened the inning by reaching on an error and Isabel Flores followed with a single to left. Sierra Smith then doubled down the right field line, bringing home Verrado’s first run of the game. The next batter, Katelyn Acton, hit one hard to first that was misplayed, allowing both runners to scamper home. A two-out, bases loaded walk to Brown would tie the game at 4-4.

We all put rally caps on and tried to be as loud as we could, jumping on the fence,” Shea Smith said.

At that point, Stringer felt like his team had the upper hand, he said.

Of course we’d like to think that,” he said. “We got the momentum going and we just needed to go out and shut them down, and unfortunately we couldn’t do it.”

Brown walked the first hitter of the sixth, and Canyon del Oro followed with a single and another walk, loading the bases. With one out, Acton got a ground ball at second and tagged the runner coming from first, but her throw to first base in an attempt to get a double play went over Flores’ head and two runs wound up scoring on the play, making it 6-4.

Verrado responded again, loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the sixth. That’s when Alex Sonoqui hit a hard ground ball that went through shortstop Monique Castillo’s legs and into left field, scoring Flores. However, Stringer sent Acton from second base and she was thrown out at the plate. Kaylah Hampton then flied out to left, ending the inning.

I felt like I had to take a chance at that point with one out, and obviously it didn’t pay off,” Stringer said. “I knew the girl was shallow in left field, but she’s got to make an accurate throw. If she throws it up the line maybe we score a run, maybe that blows things open. I just took a chance. Sometimes it’s a gut decision the coach has to make. I’m sure there’ll be many that I second guess, but that’s a cross I have to bear, and I’m OK with it.”

Canyon del Oro would go on to score two more runs in the top of the seventh, both coming with two outs, and the Lady Vipers went 1-2-3 in their final turn at-bat.

I think mentally it’s very difficult when you’re looking at three [runs] instead of one, but the girls still battled,” Stringer said. “I don’t know if it changed their approach, we still needed to get a runner on and we couldn’t do it.”

Brown struck out five in the losing effort. Shea Smith led the team offensively, collecting three of the Lady Vipers’ nine hits. Sierra Smith had two.

The loss brought an unfortunate end to the season, but it’s one everyone who was a part of it will remember.

Best season in school history, 28 wins, section champs for the second year in a row, final four,” Stringer said. “Seventy-two teams didn’t get to play today. Only four teams in Division II softball got to play today, so we’re really blessed, really thankful.”

It was an amazing season,” Shea Smith added. “It’s just sad it was the seniors’ last game. I wish it would have ended differently. I’m still proud of everything that happened this season. It was the best team we’ve ever had, skill wise and we were so close. We were all friends on and off the field.”

It’s just hard because we had so much chemistry this year and we had so much confidence that nobody could beat us,” Brown said. “We fought so hard all the time. We had a lot of confidence in each other and us as a team, and it’s just hard when things don’t go your way.”

Editor's note: For stories on Monday and Tuesday’s Verrado softball games, visit www.westvalleyview.com/articles/sports.

Casey Pritchard can be reached by email at cpritchard@westvalleyview.com.

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Thanks Casey and West Valley View for covering our team this season. We are very proud of these young ladies.