Tucson High School Sports

Frog & Firkin Softball Playoffs Report: Empire Survives to Face Centennial in 5A Semifinals

No. 6 Empire had the grit to get past a tough Sunnyside team in an elimination bracket game Thursday night at Amphi, making the daunting challenge of beating No. 2 Centennial potentially twice Saturday more believable.

“I just want to get the one win first (against Centennial),” said Empire coach Shannon Woolridge after the Ravens’ 2-1 win over Sunnyside in the Class 5A playoff game.

The win over fourth-seeded Sunnyside gives Empire the boost of confidence it needed after losing 11-1 to Centennial on Tuesday in Phoenix. It was only the third time Empire lost all season.

Empire softball ace Vanessa Brink struck out nine batters in the win over Sunnyside (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The Ravens (31-3) will face the Coyotes (20-5) against at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix. If Empire wins the 10 a.m. game Saturday, the teams play each other shortly after to determine who will play in the championship game Monday night at ASU.

No. 3 Ironwood Ridge is in the opposite bracket, facing Scottsdale Horizon on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Rose Mofford. The Nighthawks (23-6) must beat Horizon twice to advance to the title game after beating Willow Canyon 3-1 in an elimination bracket game Thursday at Rose Mofford.

“(Losing Tuesday to Centennial) gives us more drive and more motivation to beat them even more,” said Empire catcher Taylor Montgomery, who had the game-winning RBI for the Ravens in the sixth inning against Sunnyside. “They bring a good fight but we’ll bring an even better fight to them. And we’re going to beat them twice.”

Montgomery and batterymate Vanessa Brink proved to be the difference for Empire in the win over the Blue Devils. Brink, only a sophomore, allowed three hits in her seven innings while striking out nine and walking three.

“I kind of expected her to bounce back,” Woolridge said, referencing the 11-1 loss to Centennial two days before. “She really hasn’t had too many rough outings. In games that she has, she’s always bounced back. That’s just a credit to her resolve, to her parents and how they raised her.

“You get knocked down you just come back.”

Sunnyside threatened in the bottom of the sixth loading the bases with two outs but Brink worked her way out getting the third out on a groundout.

Empire coach Shannon Woolridge has led the Ravens to an amazing 31-3 record (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

In the top half of the inning, singles by freshman Vanessa Candito and junior Odalys Garcia-Peret preceded Montgomery’s run-scoring hit with one out to give Empire its 2-1 advantage.

Sunnyside was hitless against Brink before rallying for a run on two hits in the fourth, highlighted by Viviana Orantez’s double that scored Jokaira Paredes (who earlier gave the Blue Devils their first hit with a bloop single to left-center field).

Empire struck first in the bottom of the second on Reagan Grossi‘s sacrifice fly to left field that scored Takiya Hill, who earlier singled.

Sunnyside ends its season 19-6, closing the chapter of Jazmine Ayala‘s career as the ace pitcher for the Blue Devils. She first amazed Tucsonans six years ago when Sunnyside Little League won the World Series title on national television.

Pima-bound Jazmine Ayala’s illustrious four-year career with Sunnyside came to an end (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Following a lengthy meeting in left field after the game, Ayala took the time to hug her coaches and had an especially long discussion with assistant Ernie Palomarez, the former longtime baseball coach at Sunnyside.

Pete Palomarez, Ernie’s brother and Sunnyside’s softball coach for the last 19 years, reflected on what it was like to coach Ayala, who is bound for Pima College on a softball scholarship. Ayala, who allowed five hits while striking out six with no walks against Empire, first captured the attention of Tucsonans in 2013 when she led Sunnyside Little League to the Little League World Series title.

Veteran Sunnyside coach Pete Palomarez has guided the Blue Devils to the 2007 state title and 2010 runner-up appearance in the state playoffs (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“Jazmine has been Jazmine all year,” Pete Palomarez said. “Like I was telling the kids, we won the state title in 2007, but I think this team was much better because of one individual, and that was Jazmine.

“Back when we won the state championship, we had three and four pitchers. To ride Jazmine throughout the whole season except for possibly two games, she was fantastic all year. I tell you what, we wouldn’t have gotten this far without her.”

Ironwood Advances in 5A Tournament

Ironwood Ridge ace Shelby Thompson allowed just six hits to Willow Canyon in another 5A state playoff game played at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix last night.

Thompson allowed six hits and one run over seven innings, striking out six, in the 3-1 win for the Nighthawks.

Diana Nisbett led Ironwood Ridge with three hits in three at bats. Rachel Hirschfield went 1 for 3 with an RBI.

Tucson Looks to Stay Alive Against Pinnacle

The 12th-seeded Tucson Badgers play No. 1 Pinnacle tonight at Rose Mofford at 5:15 p.m. Tucson, which has won 16 of its last 17 games and is 18-8, needs to beat the Pioneers (24-3) twice tonight to earn the right to play in the 6A title game Monday night at ASU.

Tucson lost to Pinnacle 2-1 on Tuesday night in Phoenix.

The Badgers have four regulars batting over .500 — Carlie Scupin (.677 with 16 home runs and 40 RBIs), Alyssa Trejo (.608 with 12 doubles and 31 RBIs), Karina Somoza (.568) and Alyssa Carpio (.519 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs).

No. 1 Benson in 2A State Semifinals

Top seed Benson (29-3 and on a 17-game winning streak) plays No. 4 Morenci in the 2A state semifinals at Rose Mofford.

A victory would place Benson in the state title game Tuesday night at ASU.

Emily Darwin is batting .550 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs for the Bobcats. Abby Workman tops Benson with a .617 batting average with five homers and 57 RBIs.


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.

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