Salpointe Strong: Softball & baseball programs best in state combined since 2019

Salpointe’s Izaiah Moraga and Mo Bustamante were key contributors to the Lancers beating Tucson in baseball and softball games Wednesday at Cherry Field (Photos by Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Cherry Field is where Tucson High’s successful baseball and softball teams generally earn victories, but the highly-ranked Badgers could not achieve that Wednesday night against Salpointe Catholic, which has the state’s best combination of both programs since 2019.

The Lancer softball team won 18-2 in five innings and baseball team prevailed 7-6. Both games were played in front of overflow crowds.

In the last three 4A state championship games for softball and baseball, Salpointe Catholic was involved in all of them, making the Lancers the only school in the state to achieve that feat in any classification (1A to 6A).

Salpointe’s baseball team won the 2019 championship and finished runner-up in 2021 and last year (the 2020 season for baseball and softball was canceled because of COVID-19).

The Lancers’ softball team has won four consecutive state championships.

The closest school to achieve the feat is Sabino. The Sabercats’ softball program has won three straight 3A titles. The baseball team was champions in 2019 and 2021 but lost in the first round last year.

Salpointe’s programs, coached by Lancer greats Tricia Sztan and Danny Preble, demonstrated their ability to win significant late-season games with each team topping formidable Tucson teams on Wednesday.

The No. 1-ranked softball team in 4A defeated Tucson (No. 11 in 6A) in five innings behind two home runs and seven RBIs by Mo Bustamante and a one-hitter with nine strikeouts by Arianna Flores.

“We know that we can control our effort and attitude, and that way, we’re able to overcome that adversity and shine through the moments where we need to,” Sztan reasoned for the Lancers’ 26-1 record.

Sztan’s record in her two years coaching the Lancers is 57-4, a winning percentage of 93.4 percent.

The Lancers’ lone loss this season was against Gilbert Hamilton 4-0 on March 10 in a tournament hosted by Bullhead City Mohave High School. Hamilton was the No. 4 team in 6A on Wednesday.

Salpointe has won 15 straight games since, outscoring opponents 171-22 in that span.

“We talk about energy in the dugout no matter what,” said Bustamante, a third baseman who equaled her home run total in 26 games previously this season. “If we’re down by six runs or not, just being hungry for every ball. Adjusting, even when umpires don’t have the best calls.

“And just taking it — we want state this year.”

Winning a fifth straight title would tie Mesa Red Mountain for the longest streak in state history. Red Mountain was the state champs from 2010 to 2014.

“We come out with intensity; we know that the goal at the end is to win state but we have to get through all of our tough competitors,” said Flores, a junior who improved to 10-1 with the victory after taking on an enhanced role this season because senior ace Gianna Mares is dividing her time in the circle with playing in right field and being the designated hitter.

“We’re not going to overlook everybody. We have to take good reps and come out with intensity and confidence.”

An example of Salpointe’s depth: No. 9 batter Allie Hayes went 2 for 4 with a grand-slam home run, three runs and five RBIs in the win over the Badgers.

“We are dangerous from 1 to 17,” Sztan said when asked about the potency of the lineup from 1 to 9. “The entire lineup can hit. We’ll go back to that first day when we made the two teams, which is difficult because our JV is incredibly talented, too.

“One through 17, you put them anywhere and they will shine.”

Salpointe’s No. 2 baseball team in 4A top Tucson’s No. 2 team in 6A behind the a home run and three RBIs by Roman Basurto and Izaiah Moraga’s shutdown performance for the save (no hits allowed in 1 1/3 scoreless innings with three strikeouts and no walks).

The Lancers (19-6) have won 11 straight games heading into their 4A Kino showdown with rival CDO at home Friday at 6 p.m. The Dorados defeated Salpointe in the state championship game last year. The Lancers won at CDO 7-5 on March 30.

Preble eclipsed the 300-victory milestone as Salpointe’s head coach this year. He is 308-124-1 in his 15th season after replacing Kent Winslow in the 2008-09 school year.

Winslow returned to coach the Lancers for one season (2008) after earlier leading Salpointe to the 1996 and 1997 state championship games. Preble, who graduated from Salpointe in 1995, played for Winslow and later coached under him.

“Grit, these guys have found a little bit of grit,” Preble said when asked about this year’s Salpointe team, which is excelling after an 8-6 start playing a difficult schedule. “They’re starting to play for each other. They’re having a lot of fun in the dugout.

“Guys who don’t get to play a whole lot have found their role. It’s 27 guys rolling strong right now.”

Preble said of Basurto, who plays center field, “Defensively, I have not seen a better outfielder.”

Exemplifying Salpointe’s productivity with its lineup, Basurto (.292) has the seventh-best batting average of its regular players. He is second on the team behind junior outfielder Gunner Geile with 18 RBIs. Geile, who has made a verbal commitment to Arizona, has 20 RBIs.

In the victory over Tucson, Basurto belted his second home run of the season.

“It was a great experience,” Basurto said of his performance against the Badgers. “It gets us ready for playoffs. Just to come out and do our job against a solid team, it shows where we are and where we’re heading as a team.

“One of our young guys (Moraga) coming in and closing the game like that, it’s pretty impressive. We’re overall happy with our performance today.”

Moraga did not play his freshman season last year because he was rehabilitating from a torn ACL injury suffered when he tried wrestling in the winter of 2021 with the Lancers.

He has a history of excelling in big moments dating to 2019 when he was playing on ESPN and hitting home runs with the Sunnyside Little League team that came a game away from reaching Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.

“It’s just a matter of work ethic that got me back,” said Moraga, a towering presence at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds. “I had to do nine months of physical therapy, two times a day. But I also had to work on my off-time which allowed me to get to where I am today, performing again.”

When Moraga retired the three Tucson batters he faced in the ninth inning, he heard the chant of “Zay! Zay! Zay!” from his teammates in the dugout.

“I hear it,” Moraga said. “It puts me at a loss for words because it’s been a while since I’ve heard something like that. … It’s like they’re my cheerleaders.”

When asked what it will take for Salpointe to reach the championship game for the fourth straight time and win a second title under Preble, Moraga said, “Playing as a team, especially family. Salpointe’s a community, which creates a family.”

“As long as we play together as the brothers and family we are, I think we should have it.”


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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