The beautiful new park in north Peoria named Paloma was a perfect way to start the 2022 softball season on Thursday (Feb. 24) through Saturday (Feb. 26).
The 16-team Sunrise Mountain Invitational brought the defending 6A champion (Xavier Prep) and the defending 5A champion (Surprise Willow Canyon) together for a pair of games.
Willow Canyon won on Friday (Feb. 25), 5-0, when junior star pitcher Marissa McCann struck out 17 Gators.
That put Xavier on a lower peg in its bracket, and it survived two early games on Saturday to reach the tournament title game opposite Willow Canyon.
This time, it was Xavier senior pitcher Riley Flynn who drew much of the attention.
She did not pitch against Willow Canyon in the Friday game, but pitched a semifinal game against Phoenix Greenway, immediately followed by the title game against Willow Canyon.
She struck out 12 against Greenway in a 13-1 win that was shortened to five innings by the 10-run rule, then went on to outduel Willow Canyon starter Kayleigh Bowers for four innings and McCann for three to help the Gators claim the tourney championship, 7-5.
Xavier coach Brad Downes was happy to join his players in hoisting the Sunrise trophy and acknowledged that the team’s main goal is to lift another piece of 6A title hardware in May.
“We had a solid game against a good team,’’ said Downes, whose team went 5-1 in the tournament. “We did a good job coming back after that (Friday) loss.’’
He estimated that Flynn threw about 150 pitches combined through both games. Working quickly in both games helped, he added.
Star senior shortstop Bridget Donahey, known for her powerful swing, came as advertised.
She had a pair of hits, including a home run, against Greenway and an RBI triple and two-run homer against Willow Canyon.
Senior pitcher-first baseman-outfielder Emma Petersen, who was the victim of the earlier loss to Willow Canyon in the pitching circle, came back to defeat Surprise Shadow Ridge 8-4 in Saturday’s first game, preserving the pitching roles for Flynn in the games that followed.
Other notable efforts on Saturday were by junior third baseman-second baseman Izzy Hycnar, sophomore third baseman-second baseman Lauren Putz, and the work behind the plate by freshman catcher Rylee McKeever, who also showed promise as a hitter.
In Saturday’s first game against Shadow Ridge, senior second baseman Meghan Schouten had to leave the game in the top of the fifth inning after taking an awkward swing at a pitch. She was on the ground for a few minutes and walked off, later holding an ice bag to her left shoulder. Her status for the coming week is uncertain.
A special home opener
Xavier’s home opener will be played on Tuesday (March 1) against Mesa Westwood at Petznick Field (first pitch at 3:45 p.m.)
There will be a ceremony honoring the late former four-year Xavier softball pitcher Kylie Rodgers, who lost her long battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer on Sept. 1, 2021. She had survived an early round of the disease and helped out with the softball team as a manager, only to have the cancer return. She still managed to earn two Associates’ degrees in 2019 and had plans to attend the University of Washington.
Rodgers’ jersey will be retired and the dugout will be dedicated in her honor
“We are looking forward to it. Kylie certainly was a big part of our team,’’ Downes said.
Most of the Gators were familiar with Rodgers and what she had accomplished, and the older players had been teammates. Some also know her brother, Noah, a student at Brophy Prep.