There’s something to be said for a softball team learning how to play in close games.
Xavier Prep played in eight regular-season games decided by two runs or less, going 4-4. Even in the close losses, the Gators more than likely picked up something they could use later on in the season.
It’s about being patient, waiting for the right opportunity, even though it might not come as soon as you want.
Xavier did it with a 5-3 walk-off win against Mesa Desert Ridge in its first Division I state tournament game on Tuesday (May 5). On Thursday (May 7), the Gators came up with an even bigger win, a 2-1 decision over rival Phoenix Horizon when they scored both of their runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Third-seeded Xavier (25-6) advanced to the winner’s bracket with the tournament now in a double-elimination format and will meet No. 7 Phoenix Pinnacle on May 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in north-central Phoenix. Pinnacle defeated Xavier 2-1 in the early part of the season.
The focal point of the victory was junior Emily Richards, who excelled in the pitching circle and with the bat.
Her double just inside the right-field line with one out in the sixth brought home Becky Ducar and Amanda Preach, who began the inning with singles off Horizon ace Tamara “T’’ Statman.
Richards gave up five hits in 6 2/3 innings, including a bloop single to right that produced Horizon’s lone run in the fourth.
“She pitched the game of her life,’’ said Xavier coach Bobby Pena.
Richards easily retired the first two batters in the seventh, but the potential game-ending out reached first on an infield error.
That brought Statman to the plate. The left-handed hitter also is one of the top hitters in the state and is quite capable of hitting the ball out.
Statman hit the ball hard earlier twice against Richards. The first one was flagged down by center fielder Megan Donahey in the gap in left center, and the second was a single.
Pena decided to give junior “co-ace’’ Caitlyn Dickman a chance to get the final out.
“Tamara (Statman) is one of the state’s best hitters and toughest competitors, so we know what she is capable of,’’ Pena said. “Emily was “gassed’ at that point. Caitlyn was fresh -- she knows how to pitch – she hits her spots pretty well.’’
Statman was no match for Dickman, striking out swinging.
Richards was excited that the Gators were able to hold on and that she was able to play such a significant role. She agreed with Pena that this might have been her biggest game.
“I had the confidence that all my pitches were working and my teammates were playing great defense,’’ she said.
As for her big hit, she said, “I had the confidence that it would stay fair.’’