Tucson High School Sports

Living on Sunnyside of Life: Blue Devils Ace Jazmine Ayala Charmed

Two days in the life of Sunnyside senior ace Jazmine Ayala:

Perfect game against Walden Grove, striking out 11 batters in an 11-0 win on Thursday, followed by a complete-game 4-2 victory (in which she belted her fifth home run of the season) Friday over Ironwood Ridge — one of the top teams in the state that was on a 10-game winning streak.

That pales in comparison, believe it or not, to the emotional human element of her cousin, Carlos Figueroa, making a surprise visit home from the Navy after being gone for more than a year.

After the win at Sunnyside’s field, Ayala was called to the side of the dugout, where Figueroa was waiting, hidden by the wall. Once she saw him, she ran into his arms and cried openly, saying, “I miss you.”

“I didn’t really expect it because he’s been telling us he’s not coming home,” Ayala said. “Just a bunch of emotions from the game … knowing that he saw it, it’s amazing.”

Amazing can describe Ayala’s last couple of days and career in general. She increased her four-year varsity career win total to 45 games. She is 10-3 this season with a stretch of six straight complete-game wins in her last six starts.

Ayala first captured the attention of Tucsonans leading Sunnyside Little League to the nationally-televised Little League World Series title when she was about to enter the seventh grade in the summer of 2013.

Ayala pitched a two-hitter in the 9-0 championship win over McLean, Va., six years ago.

One teammate on that Little League team was Viviana Orantez, who drove an RBI triple to the fence in left field that increased Sunnyside’s lead to 4-1 over Ironwood Ridge with two outs in the sixth Friday night.

The hit forced Ironwood Ridge ace Frankie Lucio out of the game. Lucio, one of the top pitchers in the state, was 15-0 in her two-year varsity career entering this game.

Sunnyside’s win creates a tie atop the 5A Southern with the Blue Devils and Ironwood Ridge with 7-1 division records. Sunnyside, which avenged a 7-1 loss at Ironwood Ridge on March 29, is 14-4 overall and the Nighthawks are 18-3. They each have three regular season games remaining.

Sunnyside trailed 1-0 against Lucio and Ironwood Ridge until Jayleen Carbajal lined a two-run double to left field in the fifth inning.

“We have a never-give-up attitude that we have tried to instill,” Sunnyside assistant Ruben Cazares said. “They know they have to be competitive until it’s over. Let the bats decide. They were down against a good pitcher and we kept telling them we have faith in them.”

Added fellow assistant Ozzy Carbajal: “One thing about this team right now is all the girls are working very well together, just cheering each other on. When you have that, you can go a long ways.”

Speaking of teamwork, when I approached longtime Sunnyside coach Pete Palomarez for the postgame interview, he deferred to Cazares and Carbajal.

Ayala helped her cause with the home run in the sixth inning that increased the lead to 3-1. Orantez’s run-scoring triple followed with two outs, chasing Lucio.

After working her way out of a jam in the top of the sixth, in which Ironwood Ridge had runners on first and second with no outs, Ayala avoided disaster in the seventh after Jaiden Reid ripped an RBI single with two outs to center field.

At the end of that play, Sunnyside catcher Jaden Espinoza stopped the rally throwing out a runner rounding third.

“Oh man, it’s amazing, it’s the greatest feeling,” Ayala said of the important victory. “We had a mindset of staying on top, just having a bunch of heart because we knew they were going to hit the ball hard.

“I tried to do the best for my team, just get simple ground balls or pop flies. They had my back throughout the whole game.”

Ayala, who will continue her storybook career at Pima next season, relied on her crafty pitching and the defense behind her (with no strikeouts), getting the Nighthawks to ground out 11 times and fly out five times.

Sunnyside next travels to Nogales on Tuesday while Ironwood Ridge visits Gilbert on Monday.

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