D-I SOFTBALL: MTN. RIDGE WITHOUT QUESTION TEAM TO BEAT

D-I SOFTBALL: MTN. RIDGE WITHOUT QUESTION TEAM TO BEAT

Mountain Ridge softball has knocked on the Division I championship door enough in recent years there are callouses on its knuckles. Given the team’s performance since mid-March, the Lady Lions may dispense with the knocking and bust down the door.

What was a seemingly a wide-open battle for the title halfway through the season, now spotlights Mountain Ridge as the team to beat. A couple others have a shot, but signs point to a first-ever title for the nearly 20-year-old Glendale school.

Here’s a look at Mountain Ridge and a few others that could make a run for a title that concludes Monday night May 18 at ASU’s Farrington Stadium:

No. 1 Mountan Ridge (26-4): Mountain Ridge, the top-seed, was runner-up last season to five-time defending champ Red Mountain – the closest the Lady Lions from the westside have come to the championship. No team returned the firepower for 2015 Mountain Ridge has and the team has played accordingly. Mountain Ridge is led by the healthy and recently dominating left arm of junior Giselle Juarez. The Lady Lions have won 13 consecutive games and last lost in the Desert Mountain Invitational on March 21.  During the winning streak Mountain Ridge has given up 14 runs with Juarez tossing two no-hitters and six shutouts.Throw in the offense supplied by Allysa DiCarlo, Kaylin Ayotte, Bailey Gaffin and Taylor Kaye to name a few and the word formidable is at hand. Seven starters are back, including Juarez from last season.

No. 2 Sandra Day O’Connor (28-6) doesn’t exude the prowess of a dominant team, but the end result (mostly victories) is what shines through. Coach Melissa Hobson has several pitchers and likes to mix and match them rather than go with one like most teams do. The Lady Eagles are 3-3 vs. top-10 seeds and split two power-ranking games with Mountain Ridge. The most recent was a 2-0 loss in late April.

When it comes to pitching No. 6 Horizon (24-7) can’t be counted out with ace T Statman winding down a four-year career. Horizon doesn’t have the hitting of Mountain Ridge or several other contenders throughout its lineup, but enough if Statman is on her game. Solid defense hasn’t always been on the Lady Huskies side this season. It must be for for them to prevail.

No. 3 Xavier (23-6) has been steady all season and played a lot of tight games. The Gators are solid in all phases and rarely post a dud. They’ve defeated five of eight teams seeded in the top 10 of the tournament (Gilbert, Hamilton, Horizon, Desert Vista and Red Mountain). Caitlyn Dickman is the mainstay of the pitching staff. She doesn’t post big strikeout numbers and pitches more to contact with an exceptional 1.63 ERA. Offensive production is led by Amanda Preach and Becky Ducar.

No. 4 Gilbert (21-11) lost five games in February as it experimented with lineups and defense. Those losses didn’t hurt as they were not power-ranking contests. Gilbert doesn’t sport the power-hitting attack of recent seasons, but with Lynsey Duncan in the circle the Lady Tigers are in every game. It’s a team that must manufacture runs and execute to that end. Gilbert was 2-6 vs. top-10 seeded teams and did not play Mountain Ridge, Sandra Day O’Connor, or Horizon., In games where three runs were enough to prevail the Lady Tigers were 7-1.

No. 5 Hamilton (19-11) won its section title and has gradually climbed the ladder of success under coach Rocky Parra the past three seasons. Pitcher Cheyenne Noli has produced a solid season and the offense is solid, led by lightning fast leadoff hitter Bella Loomis. Hamilton held its own in games vs. top-10 seeds going 5-4. They played (lost) two tight power-ranking games with Mountain Ridge and Sandra Day O’Connor.

No. 9 Red Mountain (24-9) must get past No. 8 Desert Vista to reach the elite eight and have a shot at a sixth championship in a row. The Lady Lions  have above-average pitching in Alex Wiley and are adept at hitting with Alyssa Fernandez, Lyndsay Steverson and Wiley. It comes down to defense, which has been the sore spot in many of the team’s losses. Red Mountain has committed 24 errors in its nine losses and 59 miscues overall.