It wasn't an easy day Thursday for Gilbert's Dani Nelson to play softball. It had to be even more taxing for Red Mountain's Bre Macha. Or any of the players for that matter, no matter how big the game seemed hours before it was time to step across the lines.
The No. 1 team (Red Mountain) and No. 3 team (Gilbert) in the current Division I power rankings squared off Thursday afternoon in a game that had a somber tone for those intimate with both teams. Red Mountain standout pitcher Bre Macha learned less than two hours before game time that her mother had passed away from cancer.
Macha delivered what had to be her most courageous performance given the circumstances. For six innings, Macha blanked Gilbert (21-6 overall, 14-1 power-ranking games) on two hits. But Gilbert didn't go quietly in the seventh, forcing extra innings and prevailing in nine innings, 3-2, at Red Mountain.
Gilbert got a game-tying, two-run homer from Taylor McCord in the top of the seventh and Dani Nelson's solo blast in the ninth proved the game winner. The homers were off Macha, who went the distance. Macha struck out eight, allowed six hits and walked none. Macha and Nelson, who are headed to ASU this fall to play for the Sun Devils, are also club ball teammates during the non-high school season.
“I've never faced a situation like that,” Red Mountain coach Rich Hamilton said. “I asked Bre what she wanted to do. Whatever she decided was fine. She and her dad, I think they wanted her to pitch. She wanted to pitch. ….
“I was proud of Bre. She gave us a great effort. The two pitches for home runs were good pitches. When you throw a good pitch and they hit it, you have to give them credit. I wish it had turned out better.”
Hamilton gave Macha a hug as she was surrounded by teammates after the game. Macha was given flowers in condolence by her teammates and then left the park.
Gilbert coach Shaundra Gutierrez was pleased her team rallied for the win, but was in awe of Macha's resolve.
“It showed how strong she is, to go out and pitch that game,” Gutierrez said. “The softball community is very close. I'm not sure either team was hyped about playing knowing what happened.”
Red Mountain (20-5-1 overall, 12-2 power-ranking games) built a 2-0 lead by scoring a run on three Gilbert errors in the second inning and adding another in the fourth on Savannah Kirkpatrick's RBI single.
It was Nelson that not only started the seventh inning rally to tie, but the senior shortstop kept Red Mountain from winning with a perfect relay throw home in the bottom of the eighth to cut down what could have been the winning run. Nelson, who entered the game hittting .370, finished with a double, triple and the homer to right-center to lead off the ninth inning.
Red Mountain threatened in the bottom of the ninth. A one-out single by Emily Stebbins and two-out walk to Alyssa Fernandez put the tying and winning runs on base. Alex Wiley battled Gilbert pitcher Lynsey Duncan tough in the game's final at-bat, but was retired on a fly to left.
“Lynsey has been so focused lately,” Gutierrez said. “She's done a great job.”
Duncan allowed six hits, two walks and fanned four. Only one of the runs sher allowed was earned and the Tigers prevailed despite making five errors.