QUEEN CREEK

For two weeks in early May every year, Phoenix’s Rose Mofford Sports Complex becomes the mecca of Arizona high school softball.

It’s the site of the biggest party where the state’s best high school softball teams come to determine who’s the best.

It’s also a party that Coolidge crashed after the No. 21 seed Bears upset No. 12 seed Yuma Catholic 23-10 in the 3A play-in game last season to earn a ticket to the dance where they lost 8-0 in the first round to top seed Mohave Valley River Valley.

However, after getting that taste and feel of the atmosphere from last season, the Bears have been determined to make it back to the state’s premier stage and prove that last year was no fluke.

“I told them that, ‘Hey, we went to the dance last year. We kinda stayed in the corner and didn’t really dance. Now this year should be different. We should be out there dancing every song,’” Coolidge coach Dan Aleman said.

The experience led a team that was dominated by freshmen and sophomores to realize that if they wanted to make a deep run in the playoffs, it’s going to take huge commitment including playing summer ball and doing a lot of work in the winter.

The results have spoken for themselves as the Bears entered Tuesday as the No. 3 team in 3A at 23-3-1 overall, 14-0 in power point games, 10-0 in 3A conference games and 7-0 in the 3A Central region.

“That little taste that we got did help a lot,” Aleman said. “Now we are sophomores and juniors and they realized that, ‘Hey we can do something, let’s do something.’”

The Bears lost 8-7 to Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin on a walk-off hit in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Aleman hopes it will prove to be a learning lesson moving forward.

“I try not to watch the standings and the rankings. But I was hoping that we would have lost sooner in the year,” Aleman said. “I hope that this is a little kick in the pants to wake everybody up. We can’t slide and we can’t sleep on anybody now. This is the big time now.”

Aleman said the keys to the Bears’ success have been simple — hitting and defense. They have been led by Tatyiana Rushing, who is second in the 3A conference in slugging at 1.341, is in a five-way tie for second in the conference in home runs with eight and is among the leaders in on-base percentage at .661.

Sophomore pitcher Kiana Villa leads the conference with a 1.06 ERA.

Others that have contributed include Mariah Valadez, Precious Skinner and Rheana Ortiz.

“I told the girls that right now at this point, everything has to be moved up a level. We need to get to the next level. We can’t be just relax,” Aleman said. “The best teams in the state are going to be there, so everything has to be notched up a level.”

The Bears will travel to San Tan Foothills on Thursday before closing out the regular season at home against American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek on Monday.

It’s a game that the Bears hope would be the last at home. If Coolidge stays ranked in the top eight they would bypass the play-in round and automatically cement their place in the big dance at Rose Mofford.

“I really see that we can play with anybody and that we line up with anybody — from the top to bottom,” Aleman said. “But we can’t do this where we show up one day and don’t show the next day, especially now. It’s playoff time. It’s big show time.”

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