SAN TAN VALLEY — Two of Pinal County’s best softball teams met for the second time in four days on Monday, but one walked away having proven that they’re at another level.

After giving up a home run to Kayla Lopez to start her night, Vista Grande ace Alyssa Tinnin returned to her dominant self, while a string of costly errors put Poston Butte in an insurmountable deficit early as the Spartans (12-0, 8-0 in 4A Black Canyon) defeated the Broncos (7-2, 6-2 in 4A Black Canyon) for the second time in a five-inning, 15-1 game.

“They’re just a better team,” said Poston coach Rob Westover. “We lost to a better team, and there’s no shame in that. It’s about stepping up and trying to get the next one. You can’t let it haunt you. … I can honestly say I think Vista Grande is going to make it to the state championship. With that pitching, that defense and that hitting, I’d be surprised if they don’t.”

Every Spartan in the lineup got at least one hit Monday, including three each from the heart of the order — Amyah Boostedt, Selena Perez and Tinnin. But the agonizing story from the Broncos came from their own defense, which committed five errors in the first two innings alone. A couple of those were misplaced throws that rolled all the way to the outfield wall and allowed the bases to clear.

After two innings, those mistakes and some aggressive hitting on the part of Vista totaled up to eight runs in a game where Tinnin wasn’t likely to give up much. It appeared to take a toll on Poston starter Katelyn Westover, who was eventually relieved by Dawn Morris.

“As a pitcher, when your defense is making errors behind you, it’s hard to recuperate,” Rob Westover said. “I think the outfield worked hard. I don’t mind when they dive and the ball gets behind them. Those are outs a lot of times for us. But our infield struggled a little bit, and I might attribute that to us beating teams 30-0 when balls aren’t being put in play as often. Your defense can get complacent.”

After that early home run, the first she’s given up all season, Tinnin was rolling. She allowed only one hit and one walk after that as she pitched all five innings with nine strikeouts. She said everything was working for her in the circle.

“I was trying to give them something different than what I did in the first game,” Tinnin said. “It was more up and down movement as opposed to side to side, and see what they can do with it.”

The Broncos should still be in good shape when it comes to the playoff picture, and they’ll have a quick chance to get over their first two losses of the season as they play again Tuesday at home against Phoenix Goldwater (2-11). They’ll also have the experience of playing against one of the best pitchers and teams in the state, and Lopez will know she can be a force against anybody.

“Lopez is a very consistent player,” Rob Westover said. “It’s good to see her hit against that quality of pitching, because it gives me a lot of faith for her doing well in college.”

As for the Spartans, things are only going to get tougher from here. On Tuesday, they will face top-ranked Salpointe Catholic (15-0), followed by No. 4 Canyon Del Oro (13-2) on Thursday, with both games being on the road. It will be the ultimate test for a team with aspirations of going all the way this season, but they have never felt more confident.

“I want to give my seniors (a state championship) so bad,” Tinnin said. “I’ve been playing with these girls since I was 7, and this is the last time I’ll be able to play with them.”

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