The Lady Longhorns’ hope of a state softball championship died Friday from the impact of the baffling pitching style of an underdog, but undefeated, Bourgade Catholic softball team. The opposing, left-handed pitcher’s perplexing mix of off-speed pitches included a rise ball and curve ball.
In a state final-four matchup May 11 at Rose Mofford Complex in Phoenix, BC hurler Jackie Aguilar struck out the first four PHS hitters she faced, setting the tone for the Golden Eagles’ 7-2 victory. The Longhorns’ loss snapped a 16-game winning streak and sent the team packing north on Beeline without the state championship trophy for which they’d longed all season.
Payson’s sophomore ace hurler Arianna Paulson nearly equaled Aguilar’s performance, who struck out 14. But Paulson didn’t get as much defensive help from her Lady Horn teammates.
By committing six errors, compared to just one for the Golden Eagles, Payson was its own worst enemy. All the miscues produced Bourgade scoring opportunities, including one in the top of the first when the Golden Eagles took a 1-0 lead the Lady Horns could never overcome.
Of BC’s seven runs, only one was earned. Paulson also struck out 11 and walked three while pitching all seven innings.
Following the game, BC coach Jinhee Huff told reporters the difference in the game was that the Golden Eagles “capitalized on their (Payson’s) errors.”
After whipping Payson, Bourgade went on to win the Division III state title, beating Winslow 7-1 in the finale played May 12 at Mofford.
The Bulldogs advanced to the state championship game by upsetting Estrella Foothills in the semifinals.
Payson had advanced to the state tournament as the No. 1 seed and Estrella Foothills entered clutching the No. 2 seed, but neither made it to the final game.
In the loss to BC, the Lady Horns trailed 5-0 entering the bottom of the fifth, which turned into the only inning the team scored.
Natalie Black opened the inning with a single to right field and advanced to second on Katie Jones’ ground out to Aguilar.
Armstrong, next up, bunted her way on base pushing Black into scoring position at third base.
Then, Payton Petersen — an untested freshman who is the team’s No. 9 hitter — lashed a booming triple to right field that scored both Black and Armstrong to pull the Lady Horns within 5-2.
Petersen, however, was left stranded when Devann Runzo struck out swinging and Megan Wessel flied out.
In that inning, umpires halted play for about 15 minutes after Bourgade infielder Victoria Ortiz collided with an outfielder, then bounced off the left field fence while chasing down a foul pop up.
Ortiz was knocked unconscious and suffered injuries to the side of her face.
She, however, eventually rose and trotted off the field, receiving good sportsmanship applause from Lady Longhorn players who kneeled solemnly on the infield while paramedics and trainers treated Ortiz.
In retrospect, Bourgade salted away the win in the third inning, insuring themselves of playing for the state crown.
After BC loaded the bases with a 1-0 lead, Paulson walked in a run, which set the stage for an Ortiz grounder that bounced past the PHS shortstop and centerfielder. The bounding ball scored three more runs to push the Golden Eagles’ lead to 5-0.
In the top of the sixth, Bourgade tacked on two insurance runs off a bunt and another Payson throwing miscue.
While the Longhorns did not win the state championship most wanted so desperately, the squad wrapped up the campaign with a 29-3 record — the best in the program’s 25-year history.
With the season at an end, players will now await coaches’ voting for the All-Division III team.
Also, some PHS players will continue their softball pursuits by playing off-season club ball