Salpointe wins fifth straight state championship behind pitching of Gianna Mares

Salpointe has won every 4A state championship in softball since 2018 (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Gianna Mares not only out-dueled UCLA-bound juggernaut Kaityln Terry, she became a state-championship pitcher two consecutive years while extending No. 1 Salpointe’s title streak to five seasons.

Alyssa Aguilar won the first three titles in the circle and Mares the last two in the historic streak in the 2-0 win over No. 2 Phoenix Greenway (29-4) on Tuesday night in front of an estimated 2,000 fans at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Salpointe (35-1) joins Mesa Red Mountain with the longest championship winning streak in Arizona high school softball history. Red Mountain won its titles from 2010-14.

The Lancers now have seven championships overall with the other two in 1993 and 1996.

“I really love playing under pressure,” said Mares, who appeared to be in control from the start, not allowing a hit until the fifth inning. “I love doing things like that, being there for my team and being able to contribute.”

Mares, who also scored on a bunt single and three-base error in the sixth inning, and Aguilar will again be teammates at BYU next season.

The senior left-hander allowed two hits in the complete-game shutout with seven strikeouts and four walks. She worked out of situations with runners in scoring position in the sixth and seventh innings.

“I treat it as whether there’s bases loaded or nobody on, I’m always going after the batter at the plate,” Mares said. “I’m always looking for that next out. I’ll fight for my team until the last pitch of the game.”

Fittingly, the last pitch of the game was caught by Mares in a pop up in front of the circle. Her teammates mobbed her on the infield in celebration. They soon lofted the 4A state championship trophy into the air.

“She’s a true competitor,” Salpointe coach Tricia Sztan said. “We’re just thrilled to have one more game and send our seniors off with another state championship. We’re so proud of them and they will be greatly missed next year.”

Terry, also a left-hander, struck out 10 with one walk in six innings. The two runs against her were unearned.

A pitcher’s duel was predictable between Terry and Mares.

Mares had 118 strikeouts and 13 walks in 69 1/3 innings with an ERA of 0.61 entering the game.

Terry’s ERA was 0.21 and she had 396 strikeouts and 12 walks in 163 1/3 innings.

She was also batting .706 with 23 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Sztan made the strategic move of intentionally walking Terry all three of her plate appearances.

“You think about it as a coach, you’re coming into the state championship and you have one goal and that is to win,” Sztan said. “She’s an incredibly talented player and we wish her the best of luck in college.

“Taking the bat out of her hands is unfortunate for her, but for us, that was a game strategy that we walked into. We said, ‘Hey, let’s keep her off base.’ That’s a huge credit to her as a hitter, a player, as an athlete.”

Mares did not allow a hit until Ariel Chandler hit a double down the right-field line to lead off the fifth inning. After a ground out, strike out and Terry intentionally walked, Mares ended the threat with a strikeout.

Salpointe’s first run occurred in the second inning after Jae Castillo reached on a fielding error by the third baseman to lead off the inning.

Carsyn O’Daniels pinch-ran for Castillo and moved to second on a passed ball. Krista Martinez then laid down a sacrifice bunt, advancing O’Daniels to third.

A wild pitch high off the glove of the catcher allowed O’Daniels to score from third base.

Mares led off the bottom of the sixth with a bunt single and the attempt to throw her out at first by the catcher eluded the first baseman and the ball rolled all the way to the right field corner.

Mares never stopped and scored safely to increase the lead to 2-0.

“She definitely is amazing,” said senior third baseman Gianna Payne. “She helps us not only defense but also on offense. She’s a huge part of the team. We couldn’t have done it without her.”

Payne has the distinction of being a three-time champion (2021 to 2023) who started at a different position each season — catcher in 2021, first base in 2022 and third base in 2023.

Because COVID-19 claimed the 2020 season, Salpointe does not have a senior who won a championship all four years. Mares and Payne and fellow seniors Yanelyssia Castro-Chavez, Allie Hayes, Monique Bustamante and Martinez won the last three years after missing out an opportunity as freshmen because of the pandemic.

Phoenix Greenway ace Kaitlyn Terry had 10 strikeouts in the loss (Stephanie van Latum/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

Next year’s seniors at Salpointe who are four-year varsity members can have the honor of becoming the Lancers’ first class to win a state title all four years while establishing a new state record for consecutive championships.

Sztan was emotional talking with the existing seniors as the entire team and coaching staff gathered near the left-field foul line. She then lifted her head and looked around to the entire team. She raised her voice sharply.

“To the rest of you – we’re going to do it again!”

Who can doubt her?

Sztan is 67-3 with two championship rings in her two years as head coach at her alma mater.


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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