Wildfire Heats Up In Phoenix Tussle

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While basketball fans from around the country celebrated the March Madness of the NCAA tournament, a 14-years-and-under girls fast-pitch team was reveling in a spring folly of its own.

The Big Dance for the Payson Wildfire was the USSSA March Madness Tournament played March 27 and 28 at the Desert West Sports Complex in Phoenix.

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Wildfire team members Brittany McDaniel, Aubrey Laird, Karina Haught and Candice Johnson model the sweatshirts the players received in February.

During the 14-team fray, the Wildfire finished with a 3-2 record. The third-place effort turned in by the squad was its best showing this season.

The tournament also afforded the players a spirited time in the Valley.

"It was a lot of fun and we played pretty good," said 14-year-old Candice Johnson.

In the tournament, game five turned out to be the highlight of the team's stay at Desert West.

Aligned against the Arizona Storm team, the game was tied 9-9 at the end of the time limit. The Wildfire was able to stay in contention throughout the game thanks in part to an outstanding double play by shortstop Cydney Figueroa, Johnson's 10 put-outs at second base and Aubrey Laird's sixth-inning home run.

Because the California tie-breaker rule was in effect, each extra inning began with a runner at second base.

In the top of the first extra inning, the Storm was able to take advantage and score the runner to take a 10-9 lead.

In the Wildfire's turn at bat, Johnson was the designated runner. The Rim Country Middle School eighth-grader stole third and then home to tie up the game.

"I'm not real fast. I just can steal," Johnson said.

With the score once again tied, another extra inning was played.

This time around, the Wildfire opened with Laird on second. After Laird stole third, Sara Cadd slapped a game-winning RBI hit.

In the tournament opener that went a full seven innings, the Wildfire defeated Twisted Angels 6-5.

Sara Burns, one of two Phoenix players on the team, went the distance on the mound and struck out 14. The Wildfire played well defensively, committing only three errors.

In the second round, the team didn't commit a defensive miscue but fell 9-0 to Impulse.

Audrey Workman, the other Phoenix player on the squad, absorbed the loss but recorded six strikeouts.

The Wildfire came roaring back in the third round to burn Arizona Fire 9-0. The game marked the first time the Payson team has won this season on the mercy rule.

The Payson offense pounded out 10 hits including home runs by Laird and Burns.

Burns and Laird also combined to handle the pitching chores. Burns was credited with the win and Laird, the reliever, picked up the save.

Pitted against the Meteors in game four, the Wildfire picked up its second mercy rule win of the tournament. The game was called off after the Wildfire built a 12-2 lead in four innings.

In the Wildfire's 12-hit attack, Brittany McDaniel had a home run. Johnson hurled the entire game, striking out six.

The team's tournament stay ended with a 9-1 loss to Liberty Gold.

The Wildfire returns to tournament action late next month in Phoenix. Meanwhile, the players will continue to hone their skills in Tuesday evening practice sessions.

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