PHOENIX — On her first pitch, Ironwood Ridge pitcher Kelsey Groff watched her team’s ninth-seeded wave of underdog energy crest and break against the left-field fence for a Sunrise Mountain double.
From there, a flood of runs drowned the Nighthawks’ run toward a first-ever softball title, as the No. 2 Peoria squad grabbed the 5A-II crown with a 10-0 win last Saturday at Rose Mofford Sports Complex.
Though “improbable” to some, coach Randy Anway said the Nighthawks’ “blue-collar” 19-13 season could easily have ended with a banner — had his girls executed at the right times.
“This is the type of team that certainly didn’t have a lot of dominance in any places,” Anway said.
“They just had to roll up their sleeves and work together to get things done and maybe we didn’t do that tonight.”
Sunrise Mountain’s Mustangs (34-2) did all the right things, on both sides of the plate.
During the second inning, 10 batters showered the field, scoring five runs off six hits.
Junior shortstop Brigitte DelPonte, who launched the leadoff double and scored afterward, crossed the plate for a second time in as many innings before she clobbered a left-field homer later in the fourth.
“It’s the championship game. What else do you want to do besides hit a home run?” DelPonte said.
The University of Arizona-bound player’s second-inning diving catch helped preserve Jamie LaBovick’s no-hitter performance, which netted six strikeouts.
Just a sixth-inning error kept the pitcher, who fell ill with a fever on Friday, from a perfect outing.
Having started every game of the season, Groff remained stoic atop the mound until the end — despite a few painful minutes on the ground after a sixth-inning line drive creamed her in the foot.
“It’s pretty bad — it was a line drive … right on the joint. They think it’s broken,” Groff said. “I was not going to get off the field.”
Despite her efforts, the final game of Groff’s high school career lasted only three more batters, as Dani Bonnet’s single drove in the mercy-rule RBI, for a sliding finish in the sixth.
Groff watched for a moment, before heading back to the dugout slowly, while the Mustangs swarmed the plate.
“The balls just didn’t go our way today,” Groff said. “The hits just fell and we got bad breaks on a couple of things. It’s a game of inches and inches just weren’t on our side.”
Sunrise Mountain coach Nick Rizer never expected a lopsided victory, much less a near-perfect game, considering the velocity that the Nighthawks carried into the tournament.
“Coming in, we knew we had our hands full. But it was one of those games where we had the momentum to start with,” Rizer said.
“I wouldn’t want to play them three times in a row, I’ll tell you that.”