Little League Softball

Sunnyside wins extra-inning thriller, advances to Majors state title game

Sunnyside’s players surround Camryn Moraga after she scored the winning run (Javier Morales/

QUEEN CREEK — Alexa Cirerol’s grounder to first base hugged the line and could have bounced foul at any moment with Sunnyside’s fate in the balance Tuesday night in the Arizona Little League State Softball Tournament elimination-bracket final.

Camryn Moraga, who earlier singled and was on second base with two outs after Yzabella Armenta’s perfectly laid sacrifice bunt, broke from the time Cirerol’s bat smacked the ball. Moraga never slowed to watch which way the ball would roll.

“I just got excited and pumped up,” Moraga said of how she felt rounding third and heading home full speed.

Cirerol said of the grounder as she headed to first base, “I didn’t know if it was going to go over first base … I’m glad it did.”

The ball took a bounce off the base toward foul territory before Phoenix Arcadia first baseman Reagan Jackson could get to it. She hurriedly tried to track down the ball as it rolled away.

Jackson retrieved the ball and threw home to catcher Joie Ramirez, who positioned herself just in front of home plate. Moraga slid feet first (important to note here). The ball reached Ramirez’s glove. In a cloud of dust, Moraga beat the tag and was ruled safe.

“I had a little bit of doubts, but I was just really relieved when (the ump) said that I was safe,” said Moraga, who was mobbed by her jubilant teammates near the Sunnyside dugout.

Sunnyside’s thrilling 5-4 victory in the seventh inning puts it into the winner-take-all championship game Wednesday against Cactus Foothills. Sunnyside, which lost to Cactus Foothills 10-6 on Friday in the winner’s bracket final, will get another chance against the team from Cave Creek at 6:30 p.m. at Desert Mountain Park in Queen Creek.

The winner will represent Arizona in the West Regional at San Bernardino, Calif., that starts July 24.

“This brings a lot of momentum,” Sunnyside manager Henry Pacho said of Tuesday night’s victory. “The girls get fired up. When they come and do what they do and have fun, I believe in them. I know they can take it far.

“It’s all how they perform. As long as they don’t get down in the dugout and make sure they are lifted up, I know they can go far in this tournament. I’ve got a great group of girls.”

From the first inning to Arcadia’s last at-bats in the seventh inning, Sunnyside’s resiliency was put to the test.

Arcadia’s Angie Falls, who pitched an effective complete game, walked with one out in the seventh and ran toward home on an errant throw to first base following Sidnee Benken’s grounder to shortstop. The ball bounced far away from Moraga at first base, Falls kept going and slid head first into home plate to avoid the tag by Armenta, the catcher.

Sliding head first is illegal in Majors softball and Falls was ruled out. Anyssa Pacho, Henry’s daughter, got the last batter to strike out to end the inning with Benken on second base.

The game remained tied at 4 and Sunnyside’s game-winning rally in the bottom of the seventh followed with Moraga starting things with a single with one out.

Sunnyside standout Anyssa Pacho is a cousin of Ironwood Ridge graduate and Arizona player Izzy Pacho (Manny Rodriguez/Sunnyside photo)

“They had a tough pitcher; she threw a lot of junk,” Henry Pacho said of Falls, who finished with 11 strikeouts and four walks. “It was fastball, changeup, fastball, changeup, changeup, fastball … It’s hard to adjust. It’s hard for the girls to adjust — any team. They have a good pitcher. I wouldn’t take anything from that team. They battled it out.

“It was a great battle. My girls adjusted at the end. Hey, we got a shot up the baseline and brought a run in for the win, so they did a good job. Proud of them.”

The battle started in the first inning after Arcadia opened the game with two runs following walks and a succession of wild pitches and passed balls.

Sunnyside responded in the bottom of the first after Yzenia Escarcega led off with a walk. Carissa Palomarez, a member of the famed Palomarez family at Sunnyside, followed with a deep fly ball to center field that bounced twice off the top of the 10-foot high chain-link fence for the home run.

“I thought it bounced off the tree and then came back in, so that got me freaked out for a little bit,” said Carissa, who is also an elite-level swimmer. “I think it gave us a good enough energy. It got the girls up and everything.”

Among the Palomarez family in attendance were legendary Sunnyside High School baseball coach Ernie Palomarez, Carissa’s grandfather who is in the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame.

Her great grandfather Joe Palomarez, noted for his fastpitch softball pitching career back in the day when the Tucson Rattlers played in a pro league at Santa Rita Park, was also in attendance with a large group of family and friends from the Sunnyside community.

Sunnyside boys varsity basketball coach Joel Palomarez, Ernie’s son and Carissa’s uncle, was also in attendance, as was Moraga’s parents Omar Moraga (a former Sunnyside and Arizona baseball standout) and Selina Encinas (a noted former player for Sunnyside and Pima College’s softball teams).

Sunnyside pitchers Anyssa Pacho (15) and Camryn Moraga (below) held Arcadia to four runs in seven innings (Manny Rodriguez/Sunnyside photos)

Sunnyside took a 3-2 lead after Armenta led off the second inning with a walk, stole second and reached third on a wild pitch. Cirerol’s ground out to second base scored Armenta.

Arcadia then rallied to tie the game at 3 in the third inning loading the bases before Benken walked to score Isabella Piazza, who earlier singled.

Anyssa Pacho led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a single and stole second before scoring on Moraga’s double to right-center, putting Sunnyside ahead again 4-3.

Arcadia responded in the top of the sixth after McKenna Hackett walked and reached second on a passed ball. With two outs Sofia Pacheco blooped a single to center scoring Hackett to tie the game at 4.

Sunnyside did not commit a fielding error in the game against Arcadia with Aviana Lopez (above) and Yzenia Escarcega two of its infielders (Manny Rodriguez/Sunnyside photos)

Sunnyside had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the sixth after Escarcega singled and Carissa Palomarez walked with one out. They moved to third and second base on a double steal before Falls managed to get the last two batters to pop out to second base.

Sunnyside left nine runners on base, eight of them in scoring position. Arcadia had a similar challenge going against Moraga and Pacho in the circle, stranding eight runners, five of them who were on second and third base.

“It was a great game; these are the games that we want to play,” Henry Pacho said. “They’re exciting. They get everybody’s blood going.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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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