Year That Was 2021

Year That Was: May’s Top Five Developments in Southern Arizona



Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza is greeted at home plate after hitting a two-run home run at Arkansas (Arizona Athletics photo)

In the bottom of the fifth with No. 11 Arizona trailing No 6 Arkansas 1-0 with a runner on and one out, senior center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza blasted a two-run home run May 29 on her birthday over the left-field wall to give her team the lead. Arizona used the momentum to secure a 4-1 victory at Fayetteville, Ark., to advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City for the 24th time in program history. It’s the first time Arizona has won a road Super Regional since 2009, when the Wildcats won the final two games in a best-of-three series against Stanford. “For a long time, I took these moments for granted. I don’t think people understand how tough it is just to get there, so I’m enjoying this moment. Very much so,” Mike Candrea said after the victory, wearing an “OKC Bound” cap. Arizona reached he Super Regional after senior third baseman Malia Martinez gave Arizona the spark it needed in the fourth inning by hitting a two-run blast over the center-field wall ignited the Wildcats as the lineup went on to score 12 unanswered runs to secure a 12-6 victory over Ole Miss to advance to the Super Regionals for the 32nd time in program history.


Jay Johnson led Arizona to his first Pac-12 title as a coach (Arizona Athletics graphic)

No. 7 Arizona’s 6-5 win at Oregon State coupled with No. 6 Oregon’s 8-5 loss in 12 innings to No. 15 Stanford on May 23 meant the Wildcats have earned their fifth Pac-12 championship, the first since their College World Series title team of 2012. The championship is the first for Jay Johnson, who is in his sixth season with Arizona. The Wildcats were selected as the No. 5 national seed and were slated to host Grand Canyon in the Tucson Regional opener of the NCAA Tournament at Hi Corbett Field. The Wildcats finished the 2021 regular season with an overall record of 40-15 and a Pac-12 mark of 21-9. Arizona reached the 40-win mark in the regular season for the 13th time in program history with a walk-off victory over Dixie State, and concluded their second-winningest conference campaign the previous weekend with a 2-1 road series win over Oregon State. Arizona won the 2021 Pac-12 baseball championship outright, earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The selection sealed the Wildcats’ 40th NCAA Tournament appearance, and their third under Johnson. Arizona’s 40 postseason appearances are the sixth most in the nation.


Adia Barnes’ salary increase should help to keep the Arizona grad at her alma mater for years to come (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona and Adia Barnes agreed on May 4 to a new financial terms to her previously announced contract extension through the 2025-26 season, pending approval from the Arizona Board of Regents. The new terms of the five-year contract include $5.85 million in base salary compensation over the course of the agreement, and no changes were made to the incentive structure of the contract. The $5.85 million is an increase from the $3.345 million in the previous contract terms for Barnes, who coached the Wildcats to their first national championship game on April 4 against Stanford.

4 (tie).

Amy Rocha congratulates Alyssa Aguilar after Aguilar hit the game-winning home run in the state title game (Andy Morales/

Salpointe became the seventh softball team in the state to win a championship unbeaten after the Lancers held on to defeat Vista Grande 5-4 May 17 at Hillenbrand Stadium on the Arizona campus. The victory gave the Lancers their fifth state championship as the program finished 24-0. Head coach Amy Rocha guided the program to three straight championships with a 2020 out of the equation due to COVID restrictions. Alyssa Aguilar was the winning pitcher and she it the game-winning home run.

Sabino, the 3A state champs in softball (Andy Morales/

Just three days following Sabino’s momentous 15-inning victory over Empire in the 3A state semifinals, Riley Nielson led the Sabercats to a 4-1 victory over Payson in the championship game at Hillenbrand Stadium on May 17. The victory for No. 1-seeded Sabino (20-1) over No. 3 Payson (20-4) marks the fourth state championship in the history of the program, and the second consecutive title (last season was cancelled due to COVID-19) for the Sabercats. Nielson, a Class of 2022 standout who controlled the game from the circle and struck out 10 batters, got some help on offense in crucial moments from juniors Yesenia Romero and Ashley Stewart to shut the door on a Payson team that could never really sustain any momentum.

Sabino celebrates its 3A state title in baseball (NFHS screen shot)

Sabino earned is second consecutive state championship under coach Shane Folsom and the Sabercats won their third title overall with a 12-8 win over Buckeye Odyssey Institute on May 17 at Tempe Diablo Stadium. The Sabercats (16-5) withstood a late rally by Odyssey Institute, which scored eight runs in the sixth and seventh innings after trailing 12-0 and facing a run-rule loss in the bottom of the sixth. “We’re very resilient, and yeah, I got a little nervous there, but we built a nice lead,” Folsom said. “Give Odyssey Institute credit. They battled. I’m just proud of our kids. We had a game plan and we executed it.” Senior right-hander Tyler Welsh earned the victory pitching six innings and allowing eight hits with two strikeouts and four walks. He also was one of three Sabercat batters who had multiple hits, going 2 for 5. The others with more than one hit were Nathan Ortiz (3-for-4 with a run and RBI) and Jake Wiltshire at the leadoff spot (2 for 4 with a run and two RBIs).

Catalina Foothills’ Emily Flowers won her second straight state singles title (Andy Morales/

Catalina Foothills’ dominance in tennis continued in May. The No. 3 Catalina Foothills girls defeated No. 6 Canyon View (5-0) to win the 16th championship in program history and the No. 7 Catalina Foothills boys defeated No. 5 Paradise Valley 5-0 to win the 15th title in program history on May 8. Emily Flowers won her second state singles championship on May 3 and Jared Perry won his first singles title on the same day and Annabelle Mulick and Abbigail Mulick took second in doubles competition. Daniel Root replaced longtime girls coach Kristie Stevens and he brought home a championship in his first year with the program. Jeffry Bloomberg coached his fifth straight title with the boys dating back to 2016. There were no playoffs last year.

Salpointe celebrates its first state beach volleyball championship (Brittany Bowyer/

Top-ranked Salpointe captured its first beach volleyball state title on May 13 when the Lancers defeated the No. 6 Valley Christian Trojans 4-1 at Casteel High School in Queen Creek. “I’m just blessed. Look what happens when we have a full year, we get to show what we have,” said sophomore Rylen Bourguet, who was part of state championship teams in volleyball, girls soccer and beach volleyball in the 2020-21 school year.

NEXT: A look at the top five developments of June 2021

CLICK ON THIS LINK to access a complete rundown of the top developments of May 2021 in Southern Arizona

CLICK HERE to access the Year That Was 2021 series

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top