The Ironwood Ridge softball program is en route to its eighth trip to the state tournament after another impressive regular season draws to a close.
The Nighthawks latest trip to state came as recently as last year, when the team finished runner-up to Glendale Deer Valley. This year, the team is looking to seal the deal by winning it all in the Division II state championship.
“We know what it takes to win it, especially after we got that close last year,” said senior Makayla McAdams, one of six returning seniors to play in the 2011 championships. “We’re really gelling as a team. We’re learning to trust each other more, and we’re just ready to start playing.”
Coach Randy Anway, in his tenth year of coaching at Ironwood, said that as with seasons past, this year has been similar to solving a puzzle.
“In the beginning of the season, you get a bunch of pieces, and those pieces don’t always fit perfectly,” he said. “You spend the first part of the season figuring out where those pieces go, and until you do, it’s hard on the athletes.”
The Nighthawks indeed suffered a couple of early season losses, but never lost track of the task at hand.
“Those games really served to motivate us for the rest of the season,” said senior Erin Satterfield.
And motivate them it did.
The Nighthawks regular season continued stronger than ever, and boasted some impressive numbers along the way. As of April 21, the Nighthawks hold a 26-4 regular season record to include a current 14-game win streak, and batting and on base percentages both exceeding .400. The Nighthawks are likely within the top two teams in the nation for homeruns at 43, on track to match or exceed the 45 they hit in 2011.
To say the Nighthawks’ bats have been hot would be an understatement. To date, the Nighthawks have managed to score 10 or more runs in 20 games so far this season, and in three of those games, scored more than 20 runs.
With numbers like that, it appears Anway and the Nighthawks have solved the puzzle, and looked good doing it.
McAdams credits the Nighthawks hitting abilities to good, old-fashioned practice.
“We do a lot of hitting drills,” she said. “We put ourselves in a lot of difficult situations in practice where we have to figure out what the best solution is to that situation.”
Equally impressive is the defensive efforts of the Nighthawks, limiting all but only one opponent to single digit runs, and shutting out 13 opponents.
Heading into the state tournament, the team shows no sign of slowing down. Anway said the key to success is going to be a steady, focused approach.
“If you get down to it, you can’t look past anyone,” he said. “You can’t look at rankings. Preparations are always game-to-game. We are where we need to be mentally to succeed.”
Landrith said the experience of the 2011 championship game would only contribute to that focus.
“The nerves we had last season are easier to deal with this time around,” she said.
When asked how it would feel to win the title, excitement filled their voices.
“It would be fantastic,” said Landrith. “Only one team leaves with the title, and we want that team to be us.”
“It would be absolutely wonderful,” said Satterfield. “It was devastating to come so close last year. A lot of people didn’t expect us to make it that far.”
Win or lose this year, Satterfield said the experiences shared on and off the field with her teammates would never be forgotten.
“The journey has been amazing,” she said. “These girls are more than friends, they are family.”
The state tournament begins April 28, with the championship game coming on May 14.
The Nighthawks seed and first match-up for the state tournament were not available at press time.