Tension was thick inside of Rita Hillenbrand Stadium at the University of Arizona on Monday for the 4A softball state championship.
With the top-ranked Salpointe Catholic Lancers set to battle it out against their longtime rival No. 3 Canyon del Oro, there was no lack of action between the two teams, as Salpointe was looking to take home its fourth consecutive title.
In a shootout between the two teams, the Lancers were able to come out on top, snagging a 10-7 victory over the Dorados to take home another Golden Glove.
“I think it’s every feeling you could have felt, all in one,” Salpointe first-year coach Tricia Sztan said. “It just culminates with a great win against a great opponent, great coaching, and I’m so glad the final could be all Tucson.”
Sztan, who was hired as the JV coach in 2020, was also an assistant coach with the Lancers’ varsity program before being promoted to head coach. When former coach Amy Baray–Rocha resigned in January, Salpointe gave the nod to Sztan, an honor and opportunity she was thrilled to receive.
It may have been her first season calling the shots, but Sztan is no stranger to what it takes to be successful; she helped bring home the 1993 state championship for the Lancers, cementing her legacy in the school’s hall of fame. With her state title win on Monday, she now moves into a new league of Salpointe legends, all making an incredible mark on the school’s history.
“It’s incredible,” Sztan said. “They set their goals, they knew what they needed to do, we put it in motion everyday, and we were able to bring it home one more time for Salpointe, and for our five seniors.”
Knowing it would take a lot of hard work to remain at the top, Sztan said the team started preparing for this moment long before the season began. All year long, the girls worked hard as a team and made sacrifices, stepping up when they were needed.
“When one Lancer goes down, another one steps up,” Sztan said. “We were able to really use Jay behind the plate, who really is a phenomenal catcher, who works hard and gives 110-percent at practice, so she was ready to step into that role and fill that spot.”
Monday was no different, as junior catcher Gianna Payne was moved from behind the plate to first base. After sophomore Anyssa Wild dislocated her Patella on Saturday during an at-bat in the semifinals, Payne did her part to get the job done for the Lancers when it mattered the most.
“We put some girls at first base and really just drilled, drilled, drilled,” Sztan said. “Lots and lots of reps, lots and lots of throws from the infield and just hammered it. Gianna Payne, who does everything for the team and I think bleeds maroon and gold, accepted that as no problem and did a great job for us.”
The continuous grind to be the best paid off in the end. Not only did the Lancers finish the season with an undefeated record of 18-0, they also were able to sweep Canyon del Oro in all three meetings this season. For Sztan, she said being able to cap off the sweep of their foes with a win at state was the cherry on top of it all, but she also gave kudos to Dorados coach Kelly Fowler for the continuous great competition.
“Great game to Canyon del Oro and their coaches,” Sztan said. “They’re always a formidable opponent, and Fowler is a class act.”
As a pop fly brought a close to the game, the Lancers all rushed towards the mound to celebrate the win. Dogpiling on top of each other, it was a special way to end another remarkable season and bring a close to a successful overall athletic year across all sports at Salpointe.
Waiting to accept the 4A Championship trophy and banner, the Lancers broke out a broom, bringing it with them onto the field. As the trophy was handed over to the team, the girls could hardly wait to get their hands onto it, hoisting it up high in the air as cheers erupted throughout the stadium.
Sztan said having the opportunity to send the seniors out in style, winning all three of the state championships they played in. With no spring sports in 2020 and the added stresses of the ripple effect, the girls successfully closed out their careers where they started — at the top.
While summer break may just be getting started, the Lancers know they’ve only got a small amount of time to enjoy the win before it’s back to work in the offseason. For Sztan, she’s confident with the motivated group of returning athletes the Lancers will be making a run again next season