The darkness enveloped the field and some might have seen it as a sign.
The Red Mountain (Mesa) softball team was losing 13-5 to Canyon del Oro (Tucson) in the finals of the Desert Mountain tournament. It was the Mountain Lions’ sixth loss in an 11-game span in mid-March.
Red Mountain looked nothing like the five-time defending champion.
That bad stretch, along with a few other uncharacteristic defeats like the 10-0 loss Ironwood Ridge, opened up the possibility that it was about the time to turn out the lights on the Mountain Lions’ historic stretch.
“I’m sure some people did think that,” Red Mountain coach Richard Hamilton said. “At the time we weren’t playing great, but if you really looked, it was just some plays here or there that gave us trouble.
“We are doing a much better job of playing a complete game.”
Of course Red Mountain is coming together. It is the Mountain Lions’ time of the year as teams finish up the regular season and prepare for the start of the postseason next week for softball and baseball.
Red Mountain was all the way down the list at No. 14 through Wednesday’s action. The Mountain Lions are safely in the 24-team field, but it is still odd seeing the program that has won five straight Division I titles that far down the rankings.
Hamilton and his staff have had to change the way they coached this season, as the team is playing a lot of sophomores and a few freshmen.
The pitching has been solid behind Alexandra Wiley, but the defense has had its troubles as times.
“We have two seniors that are doing an outstanding job leading,” Hamilton said of Alyssa Fernandez and Wiley. “It’s just not our usual class of five or six polished players who are very good players already and we just have to sharpen their skills.
“So we had to go back to the basics, feeding them ground balls and put them situational hitting and revisit what we do.”
It has seemingly finally sunk in, as the bats behind junior third baseman Lyndsay Steverson have come alive as Red Mountain entered Friday’s action on a seven-game win streak after scoring 94 runs over that span.
While the field is still to be determined, it is clear there will be some interesting teams and individuals vying for the trophy at each level. O’Connor has been strong from the start with some new faces, Mountain Ridge is trying to parlay last year’s runner-up finish into a title and Horizon ace Tamara (T.) Statman, who recently recorded her 1,000th career strikeout, will keep the Huskies in every game.