Sunnyside generates runs, plays solid defense behind ace Tatyana Vega in win over Williams Field

Sunnyside notched its 21st win of the season beating Williams Field in a play-in game to the 5A state playoffs on Wednesday (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Sunnyside’s softball team finished the regular season winning nine of its last 10 games with all those victories in the 5A Southern and the other outcome a tie at 4A Kino power Canyon del Oro.

Despite proving itself as clearly one of the top teams in the state, Sunnyside did not automatically qualify for the playoffs. The Blue Devils were forced to participate in a play-in game Wednesday as the No. 9 team in the 5A based on the AIA’s power-rating system (the top eight teams get byes into the state tournament).

“Sometimes things don’t go the way we like to see them go,” Sunnyside coach Pete Palomarez said. “Sometimes we feel the north of Tucson takes advantage of the south. For whatever reason, they want us to eliminate each other.

“I don’t think they (the AIA) are being fair enough as far as the brackets and giving us the credit that we deserve. We can play down here.”

Sunnyside hosted on Wednesday the No. 24 seed, Gilbert Williams Field, which was the last-place team of the 5A San Tan region with a 12-12 overall record. All five teams of that region — including a Casteel team that is 14-16 overall — made the playoffs.

Sunnyside and Cienega (17-12) were the only teams from the 5A Southern to qualify for the postseason. Both run-ruled their opponent Wednesday in play-in games.

Sunnyside beat Williams Field 11-1 in six innings and Cienega topped visiting Betty H. Fairfax 13-1 in five innings.

Natalya Rivera, a junior third baseman, said Sunnyside has a chip on its shoulder “a little bit” for not getting an automatic berth into the tournament.

“We’re playing really, really good,” she said. “We have a lot more intensity (and) a lot more fight. When we play the other teams, we have to show that we can be on top more.”

Sunnyside is 21-9 without a tie because CDO topped the Blue Devils in one inning of the completion of the game last Saturday.

The state tournament brackets, along with the top eight teams and the play-in game winners, will be revealed during the live bracket show beginning at 11 a.m. on Thursday.

Palomarez, Sunnyside’s coach since 1998, said he believes his team this year is player-for-player better than the one that won the 2007 state championship with a 32-4 record.

That team included a sophomore ace — Mari Contreras — who went on to be a 20-game winner at Pima College and senior utility player Kayleigh Gates, a four-year starter at Tennessee Tech.

When asked about coaching this team compared to others, including the 2007 championship team, Palomarez said, “I feel really comfortable with them.”

“They can’t lose — that’s what their mindset is,” he said. “They go out there and give you everything they have, from an at-bat to the defense to the pitching. They’re always working hard. If we can stay healthy, I think we’re going to go a ways in the state tournament.”

Tatyana Vega’s performance in the circle once again as the freshman ace is indicative of the youth movement with Sunnyside. Only three of the 14 players are seniors.

Vega, celebrating her 15th birthday, struck out nine batters and walked two while allowing four hits in six innings. She also had two RBIs at the plate.

“It’s a different mentality,” Vega said about her first postseason at the high school level. “It’s a different aspect of the game. It’s different with the umpires, people, players … My coaches talk to me every inning asking me how I’m feeling, asking me about what’s working, what’s not. My pitching coach Jess (Jessica Pesquiera), she’s been helping me.”

Of the nine outs other than Vega’s nine strikeouts, eight were groundouts. The Blue Devils’ infield was impeccable for the most part getting those outs.

A couple of standout plays included shortstop Lauryn Carbajal scooping up a grounder and throwing to first base, where Soleil Ponce stretched just enough to catch the throw in time. On another stellar play, Carbajal ran to third base when Rivera tried to field a grounder and the ball bounced off her glove to second baseman Briannay Galvez, who threw in time to Carbajal to get the runner out trying to advance to third.

“I felt like our defense was really locked in today,” Rivera said. “There were a lot less errors, maybe just a couple, but still we got a good job done.”

Three generations of the legendary Palomarez family at Sunnyside (from left to right) — longtime Sunnyside baseball coach Ernie Palomorez, patriarch Joe Palomarez (who recently turned 91) is a legendary fastpitch softball player in Tucson, Sunnyside softball coach Pete Palomarez and Ernie’s son Joel Palomarez who is the Blue Devils’ boys basketball coach and part of the school’s administration (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Rivera, the leadoff batter, generated the offense by scoring three runs including the first one after reaching on an error in the first inning. She hustled to third base on a slow groundout and then scored on Vega’s ground out to second base.

Sunnyside’s seven-run second inning was the difference with the Blue Devils taking advantage of three hits, three walks and an error. The rally was highlighted by Hilaria Burruel‘s RBI single, Vega’s walk with the bases loaded and Amerika Lopez’s run-scoring double.

Three runs in the bottom of the sixth with aggressive baserunning clinched the game early for Sunnyside.

Rivera again helped generate that rally with a single following a leadoff walk by Ponce. Ponce stole second base before Rivera’s hit, which moved Ponce to third base. Rivera then stole second base.

Ponce scored on a wild pitch and Rivera came home on an RBI single by Carbajal with one out.

Carbajal later scored the winning run after stealing second base and running all the way home from there on a wild pitch. She got a head start by being in motion trying to steal third base.

Palomarez said that type of offense putting pressure on the opposing pitcher and defense, Vega’s pitching and a solid defense behind her are ingredients for a deep run in the playoffs.

“When she first started, we were hoping she could carry us until we got another one but midway through the season, she came on strong … she is a gamer,” Palomarez said of Vega. “I’m very happy to have her here.

“I’ve got such a great group of kids — infielders and outfielders and behind the plate and Tatyana pitching. They never leave a practice or a game clean. It’s always dirt somewhere even if it’s in their hair or uniforms, even at practice they give it a hard go at it. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe they can’t win the state championship. I really believe there might be schools with more experience but these kids give you everything they’ve got every game.”

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In Cienega’s 13-1 win over Fairfax in five innings, the Bobcats’ 11 runs in the third inning was the difference.

Lanessa Morales hit a grand slam in that rally.

The Bobcats tallied 15 hits in the game led by Cat Adams and Skylar Hardin each going 3 for 3 with a double. Hardin had three RBIs and Adams two.

Alizandra Bernal scattered five hits in five innings with six strikeouts and no walks for the Bobcats.


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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