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.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Extra work pays off for Xavier softball hitter

 The state tournament is not the time for a player to try to stop improving. They must continue to make an effort because one small thing or two could make the difference in their team moving on or going home until next season.

That’s what happened to Xavier Prep sophomore outfielder Sofia Zielinski in the hours leading up to the Gators’ opening-round game against Chandler Hamilton in the 6A Conference state tournament at Xavier’s Petznick Field on Saturday (April 30).

She was instrumental in Xavier scoring the tying run in the sixth inning and the winning run in the eighth as fourth-seeded Xavier recorded a 4-3 victory over the 13th-seeded Huskies.

The state tournament, now in a double-elimination format, will have Hamilton traveling to face fifth-seeded Yuma Cibola on Tuesday (May 3) and Xavier playing host in the winner’s bracket on Wednesday (May 4) against 12th-seeded Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor. Those games begin at 4 p.m.

The left-handed hitting Zielinski had been having a bit of of late trying to take pitches to the opposite field.

“I had been pulling the ball, mostly into the gap (in right-center field) but I wanted to use more of the field,’’ she said.

So she started swinging and felt more comfortable and felt ready to go.

She did not start to show results until the fourth inning, when she hit a ground-rule double that bounced over Xavier’s new outfield fence.

Time was beginning to run out on the Gators, who defeated Hamilton twice earlier in the season, including a contest at Xavier on Monday (April 25). Hamilton led 3-2 in the sixth behind a strong showing from pitcher Allison Weyandt.

The Gators’ Tabitha Von Kolen hit a one-out single and advanced to third with two out. Zielinski stepped to the plate and sent a looping fly down the left-field line that the left fielder could not reach in time to make the catch, and Von Kolen scored to tie it at 3.

The next and most decisive opportunity for Zielinski came with two out In the eighth and Meghan Schouten at first after a walk. Zielinski drilled the ball down the left-field line again and it bounced off the edge of the left fielder’s glove. The ball rolled into a dead-ball area but by that time, Schouten had hustled around second and was headed for third, and the umpires awarded her two extra bases, third and home to score the winning run.

“The ball had a tail to it,’’ Xavier coach Brad Downes said. “Meghan was running hard on the play and give her credit for that because you never know what might happen. She got past second and it earned her those extra bases.’’

Of the decisive hit, Zielinski said, “I was telling myself, “Just breathe,’ ’’ she said. “I believed in myself and I hit the ball pretty hard.’’

Zielinski finished with two doubles, senior shortstop Bridget Donahey had three doubles along with some smooth defense, and senior pitcher Riley Flynn hit an RBI triple and scored on a passed ball to get the Gators out of a 1-0 hole in the first.

Flynn raised her record to 17-3 as Xavier rose to 20-5 overall. Hamilton slipped to 17-12.

She knows many of the Hamilton players from club ball and has at least one Husky, shortstop Kate Vance, on her club team. She said she knew the team would come after her on Saturday, ready to hit.

“I tried to work inside a bit more and trust what my good pitches were,’’ Flynn said.

Downes said Weyandt pitched very well and that Flynn “was very good, kept us in the game.’’

Now a rematch looms with Sandra Day O’Connor, which fell to Xavier 7-5 on March 7 at O’Connor.

“They are always a good-hitting team, so we will have to be ready,’’ Downes said.

6A Conference state softball tournament

First round, Saturday

(Seedings in parentheses)

Phoenix Desert Vista (1) def. Gilbert Highland (16), 6-1; Mesa Mountain View (8) def. Phoenix Pinnacle (9), 4-3; Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (12) def. Yuma Cibola (5), 8-0; Xavier Prep (4) def. Chandler Hamilton (13), 4-3 (8 innings).

Tucson High (2) def. Tolleson High (15), 9-3; Chandler Basha (7) def. Tempe Corona del Sol (10), 4-2; Mesa Red Mountain (11) def. Gilbert Perry (6), 5-2; Queen Creek (3) def. Phoenix Sunnyslope (14), 3-2.

Loser’s bracket (double elimination)

Tuesday, May 3 at sites of highest seeds

All games, 4 p.m.

Sunnyslope at Perry, Tolleson at Corona del Sol, Hamilton at Cibola, Highland at Pinnacle.

Winner’s bracket (double elimination)

Wednesday, May 4 at sites of highest seeds

Mountain View at Desert Vista, Sandra Day O’Connor at Xavier Prep, Basha at Tucson High, Red Mountain at Queen Creek.

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