Nothing takes the pressure off — or puts the pressure on — like an eight-run first inning. Red Mountain experienced the positive side of that Wednesday night. The Lady Lions opponent — Sandra Day O'Connor — lived it on the negative side for the second time in three days.
As a result, four-time defending champion Red Mountain moves on and Sandra Day O'Connor goes home. No. 2 Red Mountain sent 12 batters to the plate and scored eight runs in the bottom of the first to initiate a 10-0, 4 1//2 inning triumph over No. 3 Sandra Day O'Connor.
Red Mountain (29-6-1) has staved off three elimination games since losing last week in the first-round of Elite 8 play to Chaparral. Red Mountain gets another shot at No. 7 Chaparral on Friday (May 16) in an elimination contest. Chaparral lost to No. 4 Mountain Ridge in a meeting of the tourney's lone unbeaten teams on Wednesday. Mountain Ridge prevailed, 4-1. Sandra Day O'Connor finished its season 29-6.
“We felt if we put the ball in play, put some pressure on them we'd be OK,” Red Mountain coach Rich Hamilton said. “We've been hitting the ball a little better lately. It's always nice to get a big inning and get it early.”
It was a rough three days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) for SDO. The Lady Eagles were unscathed in tourney play prior to Monday's game with Chaparral. But an 8-run first inning by Chaparral that night led to a 13-6 defeat. Tuesday SDO stayed alive taking a 1-0 win over Hamilton. Pitching and defense appreciably improved. Then came Wednesday.
Red Mountain collected eight hits in the bottom of the first off three SDO pitchers. SDO coach Melissa Hobson has employed a three-pitcher rotation all season. Hobson had to give her trio all a shot in this one as starter Haley Wall and first reliever Brooke Brown ended up surrendering four runs each. Emma Vesely, the third pitcher in the first frame, allowed a single to the first batter she faced. She held Red Mountain to two runs, one earned over the next three innings.
The catalyst to the first-inning outburst for Red Mountain wa leadoff hitter and second baseman Alyssa Fernandez. Fernandez walked and two batters later scored on a single by Ashley Hill. Winning pitcher Bre Macha, Jordan Beck and Marian Ruf added RBI to make it 5-0 with an error mixed in. Fernandez capped the rally with a three-run homer to left about 10 feet fair. Fernandez added a fourth RBI with a sacrifice fly in the third.
“We did a good job of hitting good pitches,” Hamilton said. “We stayed discliplined at the plate. That's something that will be important going forward.”
Since dropping a 5-2 decision to Chaparral on May 8, Red Mountain has allowed one run in three elimination games. Its four playoff wins — all pitched by Macha — have resulted in three shutouts (Pinnacle, Gilbert and SDO) and a single run vs. Millennium. Macha gave up three hits, no walks and struck out four in her tidy, five-inning outing vs. the Lady Eagles.