Sunnyside Juniors win behind Jae Moreno’s 13 strikeouts in five innings

Sunnyside’s Camila Vargas, Hailey Mariscal, Maria Martinez and Alexa Cirerol remain together with the Juniors All-Stars from the Majors team that nearly reached the regional tournament last summer.

Many of their former Sunnyside Little League teammates decided to pursue club softball to prepare for their upcoming high school careers.

Jae Moreno did the opposite — she went from playing club softball the last three years after last being in the Sunnyside program in 2018 to now being an ace reliever and second baseman with the Sunnyside Juniors team.

“It’s fun,” Moreno said about returning to Little League. “It’s some getting used to because it’s a whole new change especially with like the rules (mostly substitution rules), but it’s fun to do.”

Moreno was a driving force behind Sunnyside’s 12-5 opening-round win Wednesday over Southwestern Foothills in the District 12 tournament at Field of Dreams Park.

She struck out 13 batters and walked two after entering the game at the top of the third inning with Sunnyside leading 10-4. She allowed only three hits and a run in her five innings. She also went 2 for 3 at the plate with two runs, a double and RBI.

Sunnyside faces Southwestern Foothills again Thursday at 5:15 in the second game of the best-of-three series. If it wins, Sunnyside will advance to the Juniors state tournament at Avondale starting July 8. If Southwestern Foothills wins, a deciding championship game will be Friday at 7:45 p.m.

“She works hard so she comes out ready,” said Sunnyside manager Bryanna Rodriguez. “She knows her pitches. She knows her corners. Whenever we struggle, all the girls have the first-game jitters, Jaeden just comes in and does what she has to do.”

Sunnyside showed some of those nerves in the first two winnings when it trailed 4-2 after Southwestern Foothills reached base with four walks, a hit-by-pitch, three passed balls and an error.

Sunnyside rallied for eight runs in the bottom of the second inning to open a 10-4 lead. Moreno and Mariscal each had RBI singles and Mayrani Muñoz had two doubles and scored a run in the rally.

Cirerol, who hit an inside-the-park home run in the first inning, reached on an error in the second inning and scored after stealing second and third base.

“I just use positive thoughts and hope for the best,” said Cirerol, who had the game-winning hit for Sunnyside in last summer’s Majors state semifinals.

Rodriguez handed Moreno the ball to start the third inning and the game became a pitcher’s duel between Moreno and Southwestern Foothills’ Natalie Felix, who settled down after the first two innings and allowed Sunnyside only two runs (one earned) over her last four innings.

In the third through sixth innings, Sunnyside recorded all of its outs from strikeouts from Moreno, who mentioned she patterns her pitching after Rachel Garcia and Danielle O’Toole.

Moreno is not one to rest on her laurels and it appears that she is her biggest critic.

“Yeah, some of it was stressful, especially pitching,” Moreno said. “You can obviously see my changeups weren’t working that well and my drop ball wasn’t. It’s at least something I can work on, and the same with my hitting, I kind of got under it so I can just work on that more, too.”

What did work because 13 strikeouts in five innings is hard to fathom on an off-night?

“My curve was working good but it kept dropping. But it was still good. My screwball, especially my rise, and obviously fastball and a little sometimes changeup, but not really … dropball, by accident,” Moreno said.

Cirerol finished with two runs and two RBIs and Muñoz was 2 for 3 with a run and RBI.

Southwestern Foothills was led by Beya Ortega’s 2-for-4 performance with a triple, run and two RBIs.


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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