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, February 27, 2020

Gator softball takes flight even when coach can't

Deryk Sexton had a big smile on his face, and there was good reason.

After Xavier Prep head softball coach Brad Downes’ flight from northern California to Arizona was canceled on Thursday morning (Feb. 27), Sexton, Downes’ top assistant, knew he would have to take over the Gators when they opened play in the 2020 season in the annual Sunrise Mountain tournament at Pioneer Community Park in Peoria.

And the Gators responded with a 13-2, 5-inning win over Anthem Boulder Creek and a 5-1 win over host Sunrise Mountain in the second game.

Someone mentioned to Sexton that he can have success, too.

“Yeah, that’s the first thing I’m going to tell him (Downes) when I text him,’’ Sexton said with a laugh.

An umpire who watched the win over Boulder Creek approached Sexton and told him that the Gators “look like they’re in midseason form.’’

“You can’t really get a much better report than that,’’ Sexton said.

Certainly not for the first couple of games.

Xavier will play again on Friday (Feb. 28) against Glendale Mountain Ridge at 4 p.m.

Tournament bracket play will begin on Saturday (Feb. 29) at 10 a.m. That portion of the tournament will be single elimination. Semifinals would be at noon, with the championship game at 2 p.m.

In the win over Boulder Creek, now coached by former long-time Phoenix Greenway coach Ed McQuade, Xavier scored eight runs in the fourth inning, all with two outs. The fourth inning was magic again against Sunrise Mountain. Xavier trailed early 1-0, tied it in the third inning and went on to score three times with two outs in the fourth to build a 4-1 lead.

“It was amazing what we were able to do with two outs,’’ Sexton said. “Even if you take the lead by scoring just one run with two outs, it can be demoralizing.’’

Two key players from last season, sophomore second baseman Meghan Schouten and junior catcher Macy Lee, led the Xavier offense.

Schouten had three hits in the first game and drove in five runs, including a two-run home run, and had another hit to drive in a run in the second game. Lee had three hits, including a pair of doubles, and drove in two runs in the first game and in the second, she had two hits, including a double, with two RBI.

And pitcher Riley Flynn picked up where she left off as a freshman, recording both wins and pitching all but one inning combined over both games. What was even more impressive was that she did all of that after missing practice and school time earlier in the week with illness. Freshman Zoe Zowine set Boulder Creek down in order in the fifth to wrap up the game that was shortened by the 10-run rule. The second game was shortened to 5 ½ innings due to a tournament time limit.

Sexton called the effort “typical Riley. We weren’t sure we were going to have her available, but she said that she could go, because I know she wanted to pitch in that second game.’’

One fact that might have gone unnoticed was the effort by junior Lana Kline in the first game. Each time that Lee reached base, Kline stepped in as a courtesy runner and stole three bases.

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