Bio

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 AIA365.com, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Xavier softball came a long way this spring

After struggling in 2017 and 2018, Xavier Prep brought in Brad Downes to coach the softball team, which featured a talented group of underclassmen in 2019.

Together, they brought the Gators to contending status in the 6A Conference before dropping a 3-2 decision to Mesa Red Mountain in a loser’s bracket elimination game on Wednesday night (May 8) at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in north Phoenix.

Xavier was a combined 12-32 in 2017 and 2018. The Gators were the 23rd seed in 2018, losing a “play-in’’ state tournament game to Tucson High. Then came a huge jump in 2019, going all the way to the No. 4 seed and finishing at 17-5.

“The girls worked really hard,’’ Downes said after the loss to Red Mountain, which also defeated XCP, 13-11, on March 1.

“We came in with a new coaching staff (including assistants Deryk Sexton and Maddie Johnson). We listened to what they (players) wanted to get out of the program and they listened to what we wanted. We created a brand-new landscape.’’

The season brought a few twists and turns, but not nearly as many as one might expect from such a young team. The Gators came out hitting and hitting and hitting, providing freshman pitcher Riley Flynn with a secure cushion most of the time.

Third-seeded Red Mountain (23-6) had stolen six bases in the earlier win over Xavier, so is seemed logical for one to surmise that the Mountain Lions would use the same tactic if given the chance in this one.

Red Mountain would waste no time in that endeavor.

Center fielder Michelle Anderson led off the bottom of the first inning with an infield hit to second base, using her speed to cross the first-base in plenty of time to beat the throw from Meghan Schouten after Schouten had backhanded the ball. It certainly helped that Anderson had a few extra steps as a left-handed hitter.

In the blink of an eye, Anderson took off, stealing second and later third. Another grounder to second, this one by Makayla Donahoo, allowed Anderson to score.

Red Mountain got its other two runs in the third. A groundout to shortstop by Donahoo accounted for one and a single by Kayden Bullock the other.

Xavier began a comeback in the top of the fourth. Freshman shortstop Bridget Donahey, who this season established herself as one of the state’s top young players, ripped a leadoff home run to left. A strong wind that was blowing in from center field earlier in the contest had subsided somewhat, giving Donahey’s shot a chance to cut through the air.

It was interesting, given that Donahey popped out to shortstop to end the previous inning. But on that play, it was ruled that a Xavier baserunner had left first base too early, allowing Donahey to return to the batter’s box in the fourth.

Donahey figured again in a Gator run in the sixth that cut the deficit to 3-2. She singled to left with one out, her third hit of the game, and eventually came around on a single just inside the left-field line by catcher Macy Lee.

Lee’s hit, combined with a walk to third baseman Jazmyn Andrade, led to both advancing to third and second, respectively. An aggressive Red Mountain attempt to apprehend Andrade at third on Lee’s hit was not successful as the potential tying and go-ahead runs were oh so close with only one out.

But Red Mountain freshman pitcher Taylor Trowbridge escaped, retiring outfielder Cameron Martin on a foul to third and getting Flynn on a fly to deep center. Trowbridge had a gutty effort in the circle after a hard shot by Andrade in the first skipped off the pitcher’s lower leg.

Trowbridge breezed through the top of the seventh with a foul pop to the catcher, a strikeout and a fly to right.

“It was a tight game and we had our opportunities, but we had too many pop-ups,’’ Downes said. “It was a credit to their pitcher. She was good.

“We were close. We are a good young team that had some success and we are expecting to build on it.’’

Red Mountain moves on to play No. 7 Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor on Friday night (May 10) in a semifinal game. A victory by Sandra Day O’Connor had sent Red Mountain to the loser’s bracket with a win on Tuesday night (May 7).

The other semifinal will match top-seeded, defending champion Phoenix Pinnacle against No. 12 Tucson, which defeated No. 6 Yuma Cibola in the other loser’s bracket elimination game on Wednesday night.

The state championship game will be played on Monday (May 13) at 7:45 p.m. at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium.

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