Panthers’ first-pitch homer decides Safford tourney champion

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Safford fell to Amphi, 4-3, in a pitcher’s duel in the tournament championship.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

SAFFORD – Tucson Amphitheater came from behind to win the 2018 Safford Invitational softball tourney championship, edging the host Bulldogs 4-3 on March 3.

Junior centerfielder Yesenia Montoya dispatched her first pitch over the 200-foot center field fence, driving in the tying run and the go-ahead run with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Panthers flied out and struck out with the ensuing two batters to end the scoring.

Trailing 3-1 at the start of their offensive turn, the Panthers’ first batter sophomore shortstop Kristiana Watson drilled a 2-strike pitch over the left field fence to narrow the margin. A full count walk issued to senior first baseman

Kayla Martinez and a fly out followed to set the stage for Montoya. She had struck out on three consecutive pitches in her initial plate appearance and a fielding error allowed her to reach base on the second.
Safford junior pitcher Kristin Cocke singled on with two outs in the top of the seventh, but a foul pop-up down the first base side was caught to end the game.

A pitching duel through the first three innings yielded 10 strikeouts, seven by Safford and three by Amphitheater, before four runs were recorded in the fourth, three by the Bulldogs and one by the Panthers.

Safford senior catcher Abrianna Villalba singled on to start the inning and a beaned senior first baseman Frankie DeLaCruz put runners on first and second with one out. Sophomore designated player Ahiora Lawson doubled in both Villalba and DeLaCruz, sophomore third baseman Chloie Arrellin was walked, and junior centerfielder Angel Villalba singled in Lawson before a pair of fly outs ended the threat. The Bulldogs led 3-0.

Amphitheater singled on and a one-out fielder’s choice by senior third baseman Reina Madrigal got her on base. A passed ball allowed her to reach second and a fielding error brought her home. Safford led 3-1.
The Bulldogs batted .214 (6-28), left eight runners on, and committed an error compared to .204 (5-24), two stranded runners, and zero errors by the Panthers.

Arrellin batted .500 (1-2, triple), Lawson (2 RBIs, double) and Angel Villalba (RBI) both .333 (1-3), and senior second baseman Celi Klajde (triple), Cocke, and Abrianna Villalba each .250 (1-4).

In the circle, Cocke struck out six, walked one, and scattered five hits while facing 25 batters during six innings.
For the Panthers, Watson batted .667 (2-3, RBI, home run), and senior pitcher Faith Orton (double), Montoya (2 RBIs, home run), and junior catcher Alejandra Castro each .333 (1-3).

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Amphi players pose after their victory.

Orton struck out 10, walked two, beaned one, and allowed six hits while facing 32 batters during seven innings.
Amphitheater sent the Morenci Wildcats to the third-place game with a 7-3 semifinal win and Safford shutout the San Tan Valley Combs Coyotes 12-0 in the other semifinal.

Combs defeated Morenci 7-3 for third place, the Snowflake Lobos topped the Lakeside Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets 10-5 for fifth place, the Miami Vandals defeated the San Manuel Miners 9-4 for seventh place, and the Winkelman Hayden Lobos defeated the Tombstone Yellow Jackets 18-3 for ninth place.

A 9-member all-tourney team included Montoya, Orton, and Watson of Amhitheater; Cocke and Kajda of Safford; Destiny Apodaca and Jaimee Rodriguez of Morenci; Sam Breen of Combs; and Sydney Bauer of Snowflake.
The seeding rounds ran from Friday morning through Saturday morning. The top two teams from both pools qualified for the championship bracket while the third, fourth, and fifth place teams were in the consolation bracket Saturday afternoon.

Blue Pool finishes were Safford first with a 4-0 record, Morenci second (3-1), Snowflake third (2-2), Miami fourth (1-3), and Hayden fifth (0-4).

Safford posted shutouts of 16-0 over Hayden, 10-0 over Snowflake, and 14-0 over Miami before beating Morenci 9-3; Morenci recorded wins of 8-0 over Miami, 9-1 over Snowflake, and 16-4 over Hayden; Snowflake defeated Hayden 10-0 and Miami 12-1; and Miami slipped past Hayden 7-4.

Seedings for the White Pool were Amphitheater first with a 4-0 mark, Combs second (3-1), Blue Ridge third (2-2), San Manuel fourth (1-3), and Tombstone fifth (0-4).

Amphitheater had wins of 5-1 over Blue Ridge, 8-0 over San Manuel, 5-4 over Combs, and 10-0 over Tombstone; Combs defeated San Manuel 8-7, Blue Ridge 5-3, and Tombstone 10-0; Blue Ridge beat Tombstone 21-3 and San Manuel 4-2; and San Manuel downed Tombstone 21-7.