DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Xavier earns No. 3 seed in D-I state softball

The coaching staff and players from Xavier Prep’s softball team believe they are in a good spot as the No. 3 seed in the Division I state tournament, with a strong chance of making a run at the state title.
The seedings were released by the Arizona Interscholastic Association on Thursday (April 30) and XCP was one of the top eight seeds to earn a first-round bye. Seeds from 9-24 will begin play Saturday (May 2) and the top eight seeds will have their first game on Tuesday (May 5) at home.
Xavier is 23-6 after wrapping up the regular season with a 12-2 win at Mesa High on Tuesday night (April 28) and will host the winner of Saturday’s game between 19th-seeded Mesa Desert Ridge and No. 14 Gilbert Perry at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Xavier defeated Desert Ridge 11-1 in a rain-soaked game in Mesa on March 18, but has not faced Perry.
After Tuesday, the double-elimination tournament continues on May 7 and May 9 at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in north-central Phoenix, leading up to the finale on May 18 at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium.
“I would say the top four teams (seeds) have a very good chance of winning it all,’’ said Xavier coach Bobby Pena.
Those teams are top-seeded Glendale Mountain Ridge, which finished as runner-up to Mesa Red Mountain a year ago, No. 2 Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, Xavier and No. 4 Gilbert High.
Xavier fell to Mountain Ridge 3-0 on Monday (April 27) and was defeated by Phoenix Horizon 2-1 in the game before that, but Pena and his players don’t believe they are struggling.
“We split two games with Horizon (2-1 loss and 9-6 win) and we had our opportunities to win against Mountain Ridge. Nobody on our team is disappointed. We are optimistic,’’ Pena said.
Xavier has hit the ball well up and down the batting order and has two very good pitchers (juniors Caitlyn Dickman and Emily Richards), which comes in very handy during the state tournament. Opponents cannot focus on one or the other.
“Both girls have pitched very well, and I have no reservations about who should pitch and why. They are different types of pitchers and complement each other very well,’’ Pena said. “Sometimes we’ll use both of them in the same game and that makes it difficult for the opposing hitters to adjust.’’

Division I softball seeds
(Top eight seeds get first-round byes)
1 – Glendale Mountain Ridge. 2 – Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor. 3 – Phoenix Xavier Prep. 4 – Gilbert. 5 – Chandler Hamilton. 6 – Phoenix Horizon. 7 – Phoenix Pinnacle. 8 – Phoenix Desert Vista.
9 – Mesa Red Mountain. 10 – Tempe Corona del Sol. 11 – Anthem Boulder Creek. 12 – Phoenix Mountain Pointe. 13 – Chandler Basha. 14 – Gilbert Perry. 15 – Peoria Liberty. 16 – Peoria Centennial.
17 – Goodyear Millennium. 18 – Phoenix St. Mary’s. 19 – Mesa Desert Ridge. 20 – Glendale Deer Valley. 21 – Scottsdale Chaparral. 22 – Gilbert Highland. 23 – Mesa Skyline. 24 – Surprise Willow Canyon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gators open state team tennis with shutout

Top-seeded Xavier Prep took its first step toward winning its fourth consecutive Division I state tennis title with a 5-0 victory over No. 16 visiting Phoenix Trevor Browne on Wednesday (April 29). Xavier won every game but one.
The Gators will host a second-round match on May 6 against No. 8 seed Phoenix Pinnacle.
Xavier is 13-1, and coach Laurie Martin says that match and a few other close ones in the latter half of the season will keep the Gators’ attention as a contrast to last season, when the team breezed to the title.
“We are glad they had those challenges this season,’’ Martin said. “The tournament is going to get more exciting from this point on.’’
Some of Xavier’s top players will attempt to maintain their high level of play at the state individual singles and doubles competition this weekend at the Paseo Racquet Center in Glendale.
Top singles seed Madison Clarke will be attempting to win her third straight state crown, and the team of Scarlet Rush and Caroline James is seeded No. 3 in doubles.
“There is no replacement for match play, no substitute for that pressure,’’ Martin said.
Clarke, Rush and James won their singles matches on Wednesday, as did Emily Akin and Jordan Craft.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Gator softball struggles, but doesn't panic

Xavier Prep’s softball team has lost two of its last three games, but it is not a time to panic. The Gators, who fell 2-1 to Phoenix Horizon on Friday (April 24) and 3-0 to Glendale Mountain Ridge on Monday (April 27), have one regular-season game remaining, a road encounter at Mesa High on Tuesday night (April 28). Xavier is 22-6 entering the finale.
After that, the Gators will wait until Thursday (April 30), when the Arizona Interscholastic Association releases its Division I state tournament brackets at 2:30 p.m.
From that point, all the games in the double-elimination tournament will have the same feel as the games against highly regarded Horizon and top-ranked Mountain Ridge. Xavier, formerly ranked No. 1 by, was fourth in the Web site’s final rankings released Monday.
Xavier still should gain a first-round bye and host a second-round game on May 5 before the tournament shifts to the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in north-central Phoenix.
Against Mountain Ridge (23-4) on Monday, XCP’s Caitlyn Dickman was locked in a scoreless duel with the Mountain Lions’ Giselle Juarez. The powerful left-hander was coming off an impressive 2-0 shutout of Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor on Friday.
Payton Alsobrooks blooped a single to left field to lead off the Mountain Ridge fifth and scored when fellow sophomore Riley Seegan hit a two-run homer to left for a 2-0 lead. The Mountain Lions scored their final run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Alsobrooks.
Juarez gave up just four hits, while Dickman surrendered eight.
Xavier survived an injury scare when third baseman Sam Sydenham collided with a Mountain Ridge middle infielder in the second inning on a steal attempt, but she returned to action in the fourth.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Clarke, James-Rush strong in state tennis

The state championship trophy is almost within reach, and three tennis players from Xavier Prep are doing everything they can to gain possession of that piece of hardware.
Two-time defending singles champ and No. 1 seed Madison Clarke reached the quarterfinals with a methodical 6-0, 6-1 victory over Glendale Mountain Ridge’s Caroline Plecki on Saturday (April 25) at the Scottsdale Ranch Park and Tennis Center.
And the third-seeded doubles team of Caroline James and Scarlet Rush advanced with a 6-1, 6-2 triumph over Phoenix Pinnacle’s Catherine Lantz and Keiley Mallory.
Xavier had a second doubles team in the tournament. Jordan Craft and Anne Marie Collins won their first match on Friday (April 24) but fell in the second round to the top-seeded sister pairing of Anya and Madeline Lamoreaux of Mesa Mountain View.
Clarke will meet No. 8 seed Julia Ortiz of Chandler High on May 1 at the Paseo Racquet Center in Glendale (3:30 p.m. start). James and Rush will meet the sixth-seeded team of Phoenix Horizon’s Kiana Clarke and Meredith Kenny, also at Paseo (3:30).
Breezy conditions affected the players somewhat on Saturday.
Madison Clarke said she tried to play just a fraction slower than normal “and was more patient with what I was doing.’’
The senior has played against many players in this tournament, but had not faced Plecki. Clarke said she did not analyze her opponent too much, “but just wanted to play my own game, work to my strengths.’’
The fact that Clarke has been in this situation before has helped to minimize any nervousness that might occur.
“I remember the feeling (of winning it all) and it gets me motivated,’’ she said.
The path taken by James and Rush to get here has been a short one. Both had played with other doubles partners most of the season until Rush’s partner, Emily Akin, suffered a concussion in a recent match against Mesa Mountain View and has not been cleared to play.
So assistant coach Amanda Martin, daughter of Xavier head coach Laurie Martin, put James and Rush together. They had not played together much before Friday’s first rounds of action. The two had a first-round bye.
Rush, a senior, is a three-time state doubles champion, having played those years with Margaret Cohen, who graduated in 2014.
“The more we play together, the better it will be,’’ Rush said of her pairing with James, a junior.
Amanda Martin, who won the state doubles champion as a freshman at Xavier in 2003, likes what she has seen of Rush-James.
“They’re both good servers and they play well at the net,’’ Martin said.
James is a left-hander and Rush is a righty, “so that allows us to play most of the time on our forehand side,’’ Rush said.
Communication is essential during the match and if some shots get past them, “we are good about knowing how to shake it off and be encouraging to each other,’’ James said.
“It’s been tough having some injuries and moving around, but we’ve been playing the game long enough that we know what we need to do.’’
Xavier will be involved in team competition beginning Wednesday (April 29), and the top-seeded Gators will open defense of their three straight team titles with a home match against Phoenix Trevor Browne.

XCP track and field enters home stretch

Xavier’s Sarah Carter achieved an automatic qualifying mark for her second event in the upcoming Division I state track and field meet with a victory in the 3,200-meter run and the Gators finished second in the team standings in Friday’s (April 24) Toro Invitational at Mesa Mountain View.
Carter (11:11.21) previously had qualified for the state meet in the 1,600-meter run. In the 3,200, she was part of a three-runner sweep that included No. 2 finisher Sierra Brown (11:28.94) and No. 3 Caroline Liddy (11:31.85).
Thus far, Xavier has three other state qualifiers – Tessa Weiss in the 1,600, Jane Miller in the 3,200 and the 4x800-meter relay.
There are a number of provisional state qualifiers from Xavier who could get in if there are not 24 automatic qualifiers in the various events.
Cydeni Carter was the most recent provisional qualifier in two events at the Toro Invitational, the long jump and 100-meter hurdles.
Xavier scored 128 points in the Toro Invitational, with Mountain View winning at 191 ½ points. Gilbert Highland was third with 87 points, followed by Yuma Cibola (56 ½), Gilbert Mesquite (52) and Gilbert High (7).
Finishing in the top three in Toro Invitational events . . .
Shelby Roberts (second in both the 100 and 200), Tessa Weiss (first in the 800), Shannan Higgins (second in the 800), Jane Miller (first in the 1,600), Caroline McClelland (third in the 1,600), Jenna Fitzgerald (third in the 100 hurdles and third in the high jump), the 4x400 relay (third), the 4x800 relay (third), Teresa Roessler (second in the long jump) and Cydeni Carter (third in the long jump).
The Gators will compete on Monday (April 27) and Wednesday (April 29) in the Northeast Regional hosted by Phoenix Horizon.