SIGNAL PEAK — Throughout the season as the Vaqueras took their bumps and bruises with some tough losses, on more than one occasion, coach Shelby Davis said her team should not be playing its best softball at that moment.
Instead, she hoped they would gradually build up their game toward the end of April as regional playoffs drew near.
“(We’re not there) not even close,” Davis said. “We had a really good set of practices and we practiced all week on inside pitches and that’s almost what we got all day, so we never implemented our plan. Going into regionals, we have notes, we know what everyone is going to throw at us, but if we can’t implement and execute the game plan, then that’s where we’re going to be in trouble. We have some work to do before regionals.”
Central Arizona (24-13, 18-10 ACCAC) struggled to keep up with No. 11 Yavapai (29-5, 24-2) on Saturday. The Roughriders took both games via run-rule, the first 9-0 in six innings and the second 10-2 in five innings.
The majority of Game 1 was a pitchers' duel between CAC’s Sarah Norton and Yavapai’s Emily Dix.
Norton tossed five innings and scattered four hits. The sophomore struck out six, walked four and gave up four runs.
Dix was the first to allow a hit, as Bella Garcia singled to left field in the second. Jessica Mercado laid down a bunt that managed to stay fair right in front of the catcher, who waited too long to throw to first.
Garcia and Mercado were left stranded after reaching base with no outs.
Dix allowed three hits and struck out four.
Yavapai’s first hit was in the fourth, as Jocelyn Ulrich led things off with a single to right field, but that would be the only threat from the Roughriders as the next three batters were quickly retired.
CAC’s Evelyn Roman came up with a spectacular catch in foul territory, up against the netting of the visitor’s dugout for the second out of the inning.
Norton’s strong performance in the circle unraveled in the sixth when speedy Mia Weckel made her way to third base to lead off for the Roughriders.
Kayla Rodgers blasted the second pitch she saw over the fence to give Yavapai a 2-0 lead. Ulrich followed with a walk, and Cheyenne Sandoval ended Norton’s day after she also belted a two-run homer.
Ana Rodriguez took over in the circle as the Vaqueras trailed 4-0 with no outs. Rodriguez walked the first two batters she faced before striking out Alyssa Carpio.
Rodriguez allowed five runs on six walks and two hits.
“I think we need to be confident,” Davis said. “That’s the biggest thing I saw today. We kind of started showing some signs of defeat a little early. Maybe the game’s different if we’re able to get in there and execute. Maybe the confidence shifts back towards us, so we have to be able to shift the momentum of the game and that starts with our focus and our confidence.”
CAC grabbed an early lead 1-0 in Game 2, as Cheyenne Hudson doubled to right field and eventually scored on a single by Garcia in the first inning.
Yavapai responded as two Roughriders reached base in the second, Mikaela Payne hit a single and Miki Berg was hit by a pitch. Megan Parsley gave them the lead as her double drove in both runners.
The Vaqueras tied the game in the bottom half, as Sabrina Garcia singled to left field and was lifted for pinch runner Lainey Gonzales.
Mercado reached base and advanced to second on some miscommunication in the outfield by Yavapai, as Gonzales stopped at third. Roman scored Gonzales on a lazy blooper to the outfield.
The Roughriders reclaimed the lead in the third by scoring one run after loading the bases and a Berg single. Yavapai’s big inning came in the fifth when they scored seven runs to put the run-rule into effect.
Mercado was in the circle in Game 2 and walked seven, struck out six and scattered nine hits.
“We have to be better,” Davis said. “We saw ourselves trending up. I think Sarah and Jess did a good job, at least through four or five innings and then they kind of had a meltdown a little bit. But they showed us what they can be successful at during regionals, and maybe it is throwing just four innings against them, which is fine because we can split at regionals, we’re not having to play back-to-back.”
CAC ends the regular season on the road against Eastern Arizona on Tuesday. The regional tournament begins May 14 in Prescott with Yavapai the top Division I team in the ACCAC.
“Eastern, historically is always a different team in May than they are in February,” Davis said. “I think they’re going to be aggressive; I think they’re going to run the bases and they’re going to be big free swingers, so we have to be ready to play. We’ve split with them, but the team we faced in February-March is not going to be the team we face on Tuesday.”