After Copper Hills scored four runs in the top of the first inning, San Xavier turned to its ace Arianna Flores to put out the fire.
Her on-point rise balls became too hot for Copper Hills to handle as she tallied 12 strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings in San Xavier’s 8-7 win at Mission Manor Park on Thursday night.
The victory allowed San Xavier to stay alive for a winner-take-all game against Copper Hills Friday night at 7 at Mission Manor Park for the District 12 Little League Softball title.
Flores, who also had an RBI single, entered early in relief despite pitching the night before when San Xavier rallied to beat Sunnyside in a consolation bracket game. San Xavier coach Curly Flores, Arianna’s father, would not immediately commit to starting his daughter in the pitcher’s circle against Copper Hills in the rematch.
“At this point, we may have to come back with her because she’s our ace,” the coach said. “I know they are going to bring their ace, too. We can’t afford to fall behind 4-0 with their ace out there. It’s something we’ll have to talk about before making a decision.”
Arianna Flores was so effective that 12 of the 13 outs she made heading into the sixth were via the strikeout. The only out that was not a strikeout to that point was catcher Araceli Rivera throwing out a runner trying to steal second base in the second inning.
Copper Hills had four runs on five hits in the first inning before Arianna came in to get the last out (which was a strikeout). In the rest of the game, Copper Hills had three runs on six hits
Copper Hills’ last chance in the sixth was turned back thanks to Rivera snatching two bunt attempts that went airborne and became foul outs behind the plate.
Fernanda Lerma and Kealey Myhre of Copper Hills each reached base on infield singles creating some tension among San Xavier’s large contingent of fans. The game came to an end with a pop up to second base, sending the San Xavier players into euphoria around Arianna.
“We knew we could get them with a lot of riseballs,” Curly Flores said. “We stuck to that for the most part. We started incorporating more pitches as the game went on. We also had a good defense behind her.
“She was hitting her spots. … She was on command and throwing with great velocity. It took a lot of guts right away to come back (after pitching Wednesday night). It was nerve wracking but she came through.”
Rivera was vital with how she worked with Flores and served as a calming influence.
“I wanted her at third base because she can field the bunt really well and I knew they could bunt,” Curly Flores said. “But I had her switch to catcher because they were a great running team. She actually threw somebody out at second. After that, they didn’t steal as much.
“She worked well with Arianna. She stuck with those rise balls. She came up big with the two bunts there (in the sixth). She’s actually the leader of the team. When things got tight she called time out and settled every body down.”
San Xavier was also led by Rebecca Jasso, who went 2 for 3 with a double and three runs.
Copper Hills was led by Myhre, who went 3 for 3 with two runs and a stolen base. Presley Valdez went 2 for 4 with two runs and a stolen base.