On Saturday morning (May 16), there was plenty of pomp and circumstance and smiles to go around as Xavier Prep’s four senior softball players marched with their classmates at the school’s graduation ceremony.
By late afternoon, circumstances had changed and the seniors, along with their underclassman teammates, fought back tears as the Gators were eliminated from the Division I state tournament 9-2 by Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor.
The winner’s bracket contest in the double-elimination tournament originally was to be played on Friday night (May 15) at the Rose Mofford Sports complex in Phoenix, but was postponed until Saturday due to rain.
Third-seeded Xavier had dropped from the winner’s bracket on Thursday night (May 14) with a 7-3 loss to Glendale Mountain Ridge, the No. 1 seed. The win by second-seeded O’Connor over Xavier sets up a title game between the top two seeds on Monday night (May 18) at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium.
Xavier (26-9) held a 2-0 lead over O’Connor on a run-scoring single by Annamarie Hartman in the top of the second inning and an RBI double by Amanda Preach in the third. But the Gators could have had more, leaving five runners stranded in the first three innings and three more the rest of the contest.
O’Connor (35-7) got out of some dangerous situations with its defense, coming up with four double plays. In three of those situations, Xavier runners were doubled off the bases following line drives.
“We hit the ball well, but I guess it was too well – right to them,’’ said Xavier assistant coach Joe Bogart, who was placed in the role of head coach for this one after head coach Bobby Pena was ejected from the game against Mountain Ridge. Pena watched most of the game as he stood beyond the portable fence in center field.
Xavier did not play O’Connor during the regular season or the playoffs, but Bogart had an idea that it was going to take more than two runs by the Gators to win the game.
“They (O’Connor) don’t give up – they won a lot of their games late, just like we did,’’ he said.
O’Connor tied it at 2 with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth and took the lead for good with three in the fifth, all of those runs coming on a home run by Hayley Busby. It appeared that Xavier center fielder Megan Donahey might have caught the ball at first when she made contact with the fence in left-center and tumbled over, but that was not the case.
The Eagles sewed it up with four more in the sixth, on six hits. They did not have any hits over the first three innings, but finished with 13.
“We played good enough to win, but it just didn’t happen,’’ Bogart said. “It was a tough loss, and I feel bad for our seniors (Preach, Sam Sydenham, Emily Jordan, Mallory Belknap). Our seniors were great leaders for us. I don’t know how you replace something like that.’’