There seemed to be an air of inevitability around Monday’s game between Glendale Mountain Ridge and Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor.
With Mesa Red Mountain finally vacating the Division I throne after a five-year reign of state championships, Mountain Ridge and Sandra Day O’Connor distinguished themselves as this season’s premier programs, taking the top two seeds into the state tournament.
Each reached the title game in divine fashion – Mountain Ridge getting a walk-off grand slam in the semifinals and O’Connor surviving four games in the gauntlet that was the losers’ bracket to make it to the final.
So it was only appropriate that when the two teams finally squared off, it wouldn’t be decided until nearly the very last moment.
No. 2 Sandra Day O’Connor got a fantastic performance from sophomore right-hander Emma Vesely, who threw a complete-game shutout to lead O’Connor to a 2-0 victory over No. 1 Mountain Ridge at Farrington Stadium, giving O’Connor the Division I state championship.
Find a game: Softball scoreboard
“It’s awesome. It is absolutely so exciting,” O’Connor coach Melissa Hobson said. “We said at the very beginning of the year that this wasn’t going to be our focus. We were just going to play each game one day at a time, work on the process, and that’s what they’ve done. Even coming into tonight and getting in the losers’ bracket early, they decided that we’re focusing on one thing at a time.
“They’ve done an awesome job. I can’t be any happier.”
Vesely struck out five over seven innings for O’Connor (36-7), allowing four hits in the victory.
Mountain Ridge (30-5) comes up one win short for the second year in a row. It was the runner-up for the last of Red Mountain’s five straight state championships last season.
Photos: High school softball state tournament – 2015
Mountain Ridge junior left-hander Giselle Juarez was dialed in to start, retiring the first five hitters she faced and nearly the first six, instead walking Stevie McLemore with two outs on a close 3-2 pitch.
The free pass came back to haunt Juarez when McLemore stole second and came home on an RBI double by Jamilia Cosay, giving Sandra Day O’Connor a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning. O’Connor proceeded to load the bases on a hit batter and another walk, but Juarez escaped without further damage.
Vesely struggled with her command, walking four and hitting another in the first three innings, but the sophomore steeled her nerves when she needed to, stranding all seven Mountain Ridge base runners over those three frames.
She was helped out on numerous occasions by shortstop Grace Lyons, a freshman who came up with big play after big play in the field, including a lunging catch of a Mountain Ridge liner that came with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the third.
“You just got to zone out of all the chaos here,” Lyons said. “We haven’t played in front of this many fans before, so I think the key to this game was just tuning out of it and playing our game like we usually do.”
Mountain Ridge left the bases packed for a second time in the fifth inning, failing to capitalize on a walk and two singles – the second of which was bobbled in center field. By that time, though, Mountain Ridge’s runner had already been held up at third, and the next batter grounded out to second to end the inning.
Sandra Day O’Connor got an insurance run in the top of the seventh, helped in part by a Mountain Ridge error.
Mountain Ridge got the tying run to the plate with one out in its last at-bat but Vesely induced a pair of flyouts, securing the title for Sandra Day O’Connor.
Arizona’s best high school softball programs: