No. 3 Catalina Foothills in 5A state semifinals after comeback win over Cactus Shadows

Catalina Foothills coach Mark Stevens talks with his team after the win over Cactus Shadows (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Kyrie Denny impacted the game from the start with her bat and shut the door with her pitching in the end.

The Cornell signee hit a three-run home run in the first and did not allow a hit in the last 2 2/3 innings in No. 3 Catalina Foothills’ 8-7 victory Tuesday night over No. 6 Scottsdale Cactus Shadows at Amphi High School in a 5A state playoffs elimination-bracket game.

“I really felt like my team had my back throughout the whole game,” Denny said. “I thought we did a good job of picking each other up. I knew that as soon as I went out to pitch that they were going to have my back no matter what.”

Catalina Foothills (24-8) advances to the 5A state semfinals to face No. 1 Surprise Willow Canyon (30-2) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Rose Mofford Complex in Phoenix. Because the Falcons have advanced out of the elimination bracket, they must defeat Willow Canyon twice to reach the championship game.

That’s a monumental task inasmuch as Willow Canyon has won 20 straight games and has outscored opponents 285-12 in that stretch. The Wildcats, behind Class of 2023 Missouri commit Marissa McCann, have shut out their last nine opponents, outscoring them 131-0.

“We have a team that I think is capable of anything,” Denny said. “I feel if we play our best softball, we can take down any team, so I know that we’re going to come out and work hard in practice and get our minds right and be ready to go on Thursday because we have a special team that can win some games.”

McCann is 16-0 with a 0.19 ERA in 113 1/3 innings pitched this season. She has allowed only three earned runs with 11 shutouts, 261 strikeouts and 18 walks.

“I’m excited,” undaunted Riley Crane, a senior Wisconsin signee, said. “We’re playing like we have nothing to lose. We had a tough loss against Canyon View (Saturday in Phoenix) and came out and beat Cactus Shadows again (after a 10-7 win last week in the second round of the playoffs).

“If we can get the bats going, I think we do have a good chance.”

Catalina Foothills got its bats going against Cactus Shadows in the fifth inning after it lost its 4-1 lead early fueled by Denny’s third home run of the season.

Cactus Shadows scored six unanswered runs before Catalina Foothills put together the game-winning rally in the fifth.

With pinch-runner Pia Aguirre on first after Samantha Dougherty walked with one out, the second out occurred on a flyout.

Molly Brunell got the attack going on a single that resulted in a throwing error by the right fielder, advancing Aguirre to third base and Brunell to second. Genon Thomas followed with a double to the left field wall that scored Aguirre and Brunnell to cut the lead to 7-6.

Abby Jurgens then worked out of a full count to walk. Crane followed working again to a full count before lining a double deep to right field to score Thomas and Jurgens to put the Catalina Foothills ahead 8-7,

“I was getting a little stressed in the fifth; I think we were having a little trouble getting locked in on our at-bats because we were chasing pitches out of the zone but Genon came up with a huge hit to get things going,” said Crane, who as the leadoff hitter was 3 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs with also a triple.

“And then we started to have more composed at-bats. I was just excited to get up. Abby had a great at-bat in front of me and then I was just excited to go in and drive the ball.”

Denny’s pitching took over from there. She retired six of the seven batters she faced in the last two innings, allowing only a walk with two outs in the sixth before striking out the last batter.

Catalina Foothills has come to expect that from the veteran, a transfer from Pusch Ridge after her sophomore season, who comes from a storied athletic family.

Her mom Lore (Momaday) Denny was a standout basketball player at Catalina Foothills alongside Julie Brase (Lute Olson‘s granddaughter).

Her father John Denny Jr. played football and baseball for Arizona. He was an all-region tight end and defensive back at Cholla as a senior in 1997. He went on to play linebacker at Arizona for Dick Tomey before finishing his college athletic career playing baseball for Jerry Stitt. After playing professional baseball, he became a trainer and consultant for young baseball and softball players.

Former Cy Young Award winner John Denny Sr. is her grandfather. He won the Cy Young in 1983 with the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I couldn’t ask for a better team to pitch for and have behind me on the field,” Kyrie said. “We have a great group of girls who work super hard. My coaches are great and they really know how to coach us. I am so thankful for them. I couldn’t ask to be part of a better program my senior year.”

Mark Stevens is in his ninth season as Catalina Foothills’ head coach and he is enjoying his best season since the 2016 team went 27-10 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs behind the hitting and pitching of Nic Conway, who is now playing at Yale.

Stevens mentioned that the Falcons’ fortitude, thriving after losing a three-run lead and then rallying back after trailing by three runs against Cactus Shadows, is indicative of what his team is all about.

“This win is very typical of how we’ve been winning a lot of games this year,” Stevens said. “They don’t give up. They come back. They know they’ll be playing seven innings. There’s no give-up in this team.

“It will help against these good teams when they get a little lead on us. We know we can come back and get that lead back and get a lead ourselves. They’re good that way.”


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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