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.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Gator softball feels right at home on Sunnyslope field

 When the Covid outbreak loosened its grip somewhat and it became apparent that spring sports would get the go-ahead to be played in Arizona, it provided a challenge for the schedule-makers and those in charge of lining up facilities at schools.

Winter sports, nearing their playoff time, took precedence as far as any of the facilities overlaps were concerned. The spring sports were in the process of team tryouts and preseason practices.

At Xavier Prep, the beautiful all-purpose Petznick Field, soccer was the sport of the day, going on to win the Division I state championship. Softball, one of the other tenants, more or less had to fend for itself. That meant scheduling its work at another school with a more relaxed schedule.

So the softball team reached an agreement for tryouts and preseason practices to be held at Phoenix Sunnyslope, about five miles north of the XCP campus. Sunnyslope, with one of the nicer fields in the Valley, would practice at one time and Xavier another, mostly at night.

In a trade-off, Sunnyslope’s beach volleyball team was allowed to practice and play a handful of games at Xavier’s Cavanaugh Courts while the City of Phoenix was doing work on beach courts in north Phoenix near Sunnyslope.

The exchanges worked, particularly for softball.

The Gators and Vikings rose to the heights among 6A Conference teams during the regular season that is entering its final stages.

And it just so happened that the two teams met on Friday night (April 23), and when top-ranked Xavier walked onto the field to meet the No. 2 Vikings, it almost seemed like a home away from home.

Xavier rode a strong pitching performance by junior Riley Flynn and got a titanic, two-run home run by junior Bridget Donahey, holding off a late-game surge by ‘Slope for a 6-3 victory.

Xavier climbed to 11-1, while ‘Slope slipped to 11-3.

“They (‘Slope) have a good team. We knew we would have to play a full game against them,’’ said Xavier coach Brad Downes.

The teams were locked in a scoreless duel for the first three innings, Flynn against Vikings junior star Sam Hildebrandt.

Xavier broke the seal with three runs in the top of the fourth, two coming on Donahey’s home run that was so high and deep that it still might not have returned to Earth, even as we speak. The third run came on a fielder’s choice grounder by senior Jazmin Andrade.

Donahey made it 4-0 in the fifth with a sacrifice fly.

Moving into the bottom of the sixth, Flynn had not given up a hit and had 14 strikeouts when the door opened for ‘Slope.

Flynn struck out the first two batters, but gave up the first hit to Jordan McMahon, followed by Taylor Nilsen’s two-run homer and a solo shot by Maddie Udall.

Clinging to a 4-3 lead entering the seventh, Xavier opened up some breathing room on a run-scoring double to the left-field corner by freshman Sofia Zielinski and a bloop single to right-center by freshman Lauren Putz that fell between three or four defenders trying to make a play.

Flynn returned to what got her there in the seventh, retiring the leadoff hitter on a pop fly to junior second baseman Meghan Schouten and recording strikeout Nos. 15 and 16 to end it.

Downes said he is hopeful that the close battle will help the Gators maintain their focus for their next game, on Monday (April 26) at Chandler Hamilton.

The Huskies pinned the only loss on Xavier’s record on April 6 with a 6-4 triumph at Xavier. Hamilton was 3-5 at that point but since has gone 7-0 to become a contender.


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