A short while after Sunnyside’s Jaden Espinoza was stranded at second base to end the game, she was raking the infield and batter’s box area.
She did not look as frustrated doing the manual labor as she did running toward the dugout after the 4-2 loss to visiting Scottsdale Horizon in a 5A state playoff game on Thursday.
In talking with Sunnyside’s players and coaches, the loss, snapping a 10-game winning streak, amounts to a bump on the road for the Blue Devils (18-5) in their quest for the state title in the double-elimination tournament.
Asked what Sunnyside’s coaches told the players after the loss — which included three errors by the Blue Devils, two that led to two unearned runs — Espinoza said, “It’s not over. We’re going to play Saturday, which will lead to next (Thursday). It’s not over for us.”
Sunnyside coach Pete Palomarez told me, “Hopefully we’ll keep going on when we win on Saturday.”
That’s nothing but confidence because of how the Blue Devils have played this season, finishing atop the 5A Southern with a 9-1 record behind ace Jazmine Ayala.
Sunnyside, the No. 4 seed, will play No. 16 Sunnyslope (16-15) at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix. The winner advances to play the loser of the Empire-Centennial game on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Rose Mofford. Empire plays Centennial in a winner’s bracket game on Tuesday at 5:30 at Rose Mofford.
“The fear factor is gone,” Palomarez said. “The kids know exactly what it will take to continue to win. We have to play good defense, hit the ball and support our pitcher. “
A hit-by-pitch and an error helped fuel Horizon’s two-run first inning. A home run by Horizon pitcher Morgan Leinstock gave Horizon a 3-1 lead in the second inning.
“When you’re playing against a team like Horizon, you can’t allow them to get extra outs, extra runners on when you make mistakes,” Palomarez said. “We told the kids all week that they make sure they field the ball properly because (Horizon is) too good of a team to give that extra out. I think that’s where we got hurt.”
Ayala, a Pima signee, outdueled Leinstock, who has signed with ASU, in strikeouts and hits allowed. Ayala had nine strikeouts and Leinstock five. The Blue Devils also had nine hits to Horizon’s seven.
Sunnyside also left seven runners on base, including Espinoza in the seventh after her double plated Jayleen Carbajal, who reached on a leadoff infield single and move to second on a throwing error.
“I think this loss kind of showed us what to expect and it will make us even stronger for the next game,” Carbajal said. “I feel in our hearts we do want this. … We came out here and started off slow. We have to be stronger from the get-go.
“Breathe, let it go, we’ll learn from it and we’ll come back.”
Saw two from the @CoachCandreaUA @ArizonaSoftball player coaching tree this week — Amy Baray-Rocha (Salpointe's head coach) and Jackie Coburn (Scottsdale Horizon). Coburn coached Arizona's Tamara Statman at Horizon.
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) May 3, 2019
What did Sunnyside do differently in this loss than it did in its 10-game winning streak?
“We need to talk more to each other, maybe make each other more comfortable and know that it’s just a game, have fun and give it your all with a good attitude,” Carbajal said.
Espinoza added, “We came out a little timid. We knew what their stats were. We knew they had a good pitcher but we should have played our game. We know how to play Sunnyside softball.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.