When the youthful Pusch Ridge Christian Lions softball team made the semi-finals in 2A-play, they had reached a level that couldn't have been expected at season's start.
The team had no seniors, and the only juniors were Nikki Hammond, Cori Messer-Meyers, Mariela Ramirez, and Kaycee Thompson. The team still went 13-5 and were only one game away from the state championship game.
So when the Lions went down to eventual state champion Willcox, 9-1, the final results couldn't have been too disappointing.
"Willcox was a much more experienced team," said coach Bob Vance. "We out-hit them, but had more errors and walked more batters — on a team with no seniors." He added, "We feel really good about being back next year."
Even in the loss, Thompson had three hits, as she batted 8-13 in the tournament. Sophomore Corey Ward emerged as a pitching star in the playoffs, as she pitched a shutout against Chandler Valley Christian in the first-round, with seven strikeouts.
"It was really a good team effort," Vance said.
Earlier in the season, after a 6-3 start, Vance said he expected to go deep into the playoffs.
The offense was impressive as Pusch Ridge averaged 11 runs per game. In their second playoff game, the offense exploded in a 16-11 win over San Manuel, which marked the sixth time this year that the Lions scored 16 or more runs in a game.
The team's four best hitters were the first four batters in the lineup, Rachel Majors, Sarah Majors, Rachel Ward and Thompson. All four will return next season.