Cactus beats Apache Junction, 14-3; Prospectors next play Mohave in state tourney

Prospectors junior Cori Haro makes contact during the fifth inning of a 4A softball third-round game against Cactus at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix. (Photo courtesy of Ed Russell Photography)

The Apache Junction softball team will have another chance to extend its dream season after running into a buzzsaw Thursday afternoon.

No. 2 seed Apache Junction (25-7) plays No. 6 Mohave (21-12) in a 4A softball elimination game Tuesday at Rose Mofford Sports Complex. Apache Junction played No. 7 Casa Grande (25-10) May 1 in an epic third-round game, won 3-2 by the Prospectors in 13 innings.

Through the top of the fourth inning Thursday, it looked like No. 3 Glendale Cactus (29-4) would end the game against Apache Junction early. Pitcher Mikayla Gilbert was worn from the double-length game two days before.

“She threw a lot of pitches the other day,” Prospectors Coach Ed Matlosz said about Gilgert, who tossed more than 200 pitches in the 13-inning game. “She’s a heck of a competitor, she doesn’t want to be taken out.”

The Cobras led 10-0 Thursday at the J.J. & Kelsey Putz Field in Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix, highlighted by two home runs.

The Prospectors kept the game alive, momentarily, hitting their own home run in the bottom of the inning.

But the game would end the next inning, a 14-3 win for the Cobras. It was the Cobras’ second playoff win in a row in which the game ended on the 10-run rule after five innings.

Cactus coach Bartt Underwood said he was a little antsy coming into this game, not knowing much about the Prospectors.

“I’ve never played against them,” he said. “I looked at every team they played trying to find a coach I might know. But I do tell my girls all the time it shouldn’t matter who we play. If we play the way we can, we hit like we can, we can win. And it kind of panned out that way.”

The Cobras were in full control from the get-go, loading the bases early in the first inning. Sophomore Kaytlin Leyvas was hit by a pitch. Two singles and a walk by freshman McKenna “Bub” Feringa brought Leyvas in for the first score.

The Prospectors kept the score at 1-0 despite the loaded bases. Pitcher Gilgert struck out two players before freshman Hannah Difabio’s center fly ball was caught to end the inning.

The Prospectors failed to score through three innings, thanks in part to pitching from Feringa and a Cobras cast that responded quickly to ground balls.

Apache Junction freshman Daisy Ruelas-Estrada tags out Cactus sophomore Kaiulani Nowell after a pick-off throw to first base Thursday during a 4A softball third-round game at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix. (Photo courtesy of Ed Russell Photography)

In the second inning, junior Carson Gambs hit a double along the third base line. Sophomore Kaiulani Nowell then hit an RBI single through the middle, allowing Gambs to score from second.

With Feringa on base, Leyvas hit a deep ball to center field, scoring Feringa. After senior Nicole Osteen struck out, senior Emilie Guerra scored off Difabio’s single to left field.

The 4-0 advantage turned to a seven-run lead. Gambs earned a triple to deep left, bringing in Difabio. Nowell’s sacrifice fly scored Gambs. Then on the first pitch thrown, Leyvas hit a home run.

Underwood credited his batters for pinpointing possible flaws in the opposing pitcher in order to get the bats connecting early in the game.

“I asked the girls, ‘What are you doing?’” Underwood said. “Curve ball but then she went down in the zone, then out of the zone, then up in the zone. I said if we don’t chase, and she has to throw strikes, we will hit.”

The Cobras sent down the next three Prospectors to end the third inning 7-0. Gilgert remained in the game to start the fourth.

With a 2-1 count to start the fourth, junior Alynah Torres hit a home run to left field to extend the lead. Guerra later hit a fly ball, and appeared it would be caught for an out, but a Prospector dropped it, allowing Guerra to triple and bring Feringa in. Osteen hit a ground ball out, but to the right side, allowed Guerra to score growing the lead at 10-0.

The Cobras hitting showed its strength in the order, as Underwood pointed out that his eighth batter went 4-of-4.

“Are some of my hitters better than others?” Underwood said. “Yeah, but, if they’re going to pitch around them, my other girls seem to step it up. And I say ‘Girls, if we have a game where everybody’s hitting, somebody’s in trouble.’”

With the 10-run rule looming, the Cobras had two players on base when Leyvas singled. However, Difabio attempted to steal home from third, causing a game of cat and mouse before the Prospectors tagged her out to end the top of the inning.

All the Cobras had to do to end the game early was to out three batters before a single run. They succeeded with outs of junior Cori Haro and senior Denae Preuhs. But Gilgert connected on the first pitch and homered deep left to give the Prospectors their first score. And extend the game.

The top of the fifth showed that Cactus was in full control. Torres hit another home run, bringing in sophomore Aubrey Chavez with her and extending the lead to 12-1. Feringa would score after earning a double and Guerra singling to left field.

“I’m not going to lie to you, people don’t want to throw to her,” Underwood said about the hitting ability of Torres, who hit two home runs in each of the last two games. “And they haven’t all year and she still was hitting .538 before today.”

Gambs hit a double and brought senior Ashleigh Kennedy in, giving the Cobras their final run.

The Prospectors would earn two runs in the bottom of the fifth, but a ground out ended the game early.

“I liked the way our pinch hitters came in at the end, they got something going,” said Matlosz. “Like I said, try to get some momentum going, try to work our way back in it, we’ll see what happens.”

Gilgert had a rough four innings before being replaced in the fifth. But Matlosz isn’t putting the heat on his pitcher. Overall, it was a game that Matlosz said wasn’t very much like the way his team has played the rest of the season.

“Gilgert’s thrown very well,” he said. “Especially in big games. We were taken to the limit last week. You can’t make mistakes against them (Cactus). We didn’t have the defense. Bartt’s done a great job, he’s got talented players.”

Editor’s note: Chris Caraveo is a reporter for Independent Newsmedia.

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