Apache Junction High School softball team beats Casa Grande, advances in state tourney

After nearly 13 innings, almost three hours and numerous jams, Apache Junction coach Ed Matlosz figured it was now or never.

And with Mikayla Gilgert pitching out of trouble in four of the final five innings, and a little help from the rulebook, the Prospector softball team advances in the state tournament.

Cori Haro singled home Elexis Toro from second with two out in the bottom of the 13th to lift second-seeded Apache Junction past No. 7 Casa Grande 3-2 on Tuesday, May 1, in the 4A state tournament.

The Prospectors (25-6) face No. 3 Glendale Cactus on Thursday, May 3, at Rose Mofford Softball Complex in Phoenix in the double-elimination tournament. Two more wins puts Apache Junction in the May 15 state championship game.

In the bottom of the 13th, after two groundouts, Toro singled to left and reached second on a passed ball. Haro worked Casa Grande pitcher Jessica Mercado for a shot up the middle. Toro was off at the crack of the bat but the throw appeared to be in time to catch her at the plate. However, Casa Grande catcher Ciara Cruz blocked the plate before the throw was there and was called for interference – the umpires ruling Toro was safe.

“He (Matlosz) said, ‘I am going to send you no matter what. There’s two outs, she just needs to get a hit.’ So I already knew I was (to) start going but then I saw her there and I was thinking, is the best option to run into her? If I go around her, I’m out. So I just slid into her and then, yeah, it was an obstruction.”

Matlosz explained his thought process when asked about sending Gilgert home from second on the single.

“We got to,” Matlosz said. “You get a clutch hit like that and it’s going to be a do or die anyway. She’s our best runner. You might not get that situation again and he (the umpire) told us he would suspend the game when the sun goes down. So I don’t want to face that lineup another inning.”

Apache Junction freshman Tristen Greer knocked in a run and later scored on a wild pitch to give the Prospectors a 2-0 lead in the second. While Gilgert was cruising, allowing just one hit in the first four innings.

That was until allowing two runs on a pair of hits and a walk in the fifth. Gilgert settled down after that but Mercado retired 18 straight Prospectors at one stretch and didn’t really have any trouble with the Apache Junction lineup until the 12th, when Gilgert walked and Priscilla Sladate reached on an error. But Mercado got Greer to ground out and end the threat.

Meanwhile, Casa Grande (25-9) kept getting on base. The Cougars loaded the bases in the ninth and 10th and had two on in the 12th and 13th and didn’t score. Gilgert used strikeouts to get out of the ninth and 10th inning jams and then pop ups in the final two innings.

The Prospectors have never won a state softball title, losing in its only championship game appearance 9-7 to Eloy Santa Cruz in the Class 3A final in 1979.

Editor’s note: Al Bravo is a volunteer reporter.

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