PHOENIX — Before the season even began, Santa Cruz Valley head coach Andrea James told her team that the goal for them was to win the state championship. Now, after a 16-6 win over Heritage Academy-Laveen, the Dust Devils take the first step in achieving that championship goal.

With majority of the team made up of underclassmen, some playoff nerves were expected for the Eloy squad. Those nerves showed up in the first inning, as freshman pitcher Tatiyana Reyes struggled to replicate the performances she put in during the regular season.

James knew she had to give the opposing Heroes a different look from inside the circle, electing to bring in junior Rhaylyn Tarango, after Reyes gave up three runs on four hits, while only recording one out in the inning.

“We just had to change the momentum of the game,” James said. “We should have been out of the inning earlier, but we made some bad plays in the field. I didn’t want (Reyes) to keep going and get further behind.”

The Dust Devils quickly responded in the first, scoring a run off an RBI single from Miranda Tapia, but the bats stayed relatively quiet through the first two innings.

The bats would eventually wake up, however, as Santa Cruz found the momentum they needed in the bottom of the third, scoring six runs in the inning, then topping it off with a three-run home run from Yliana Velazco to make the score 10-4 after the fifth.

Inside the circle, Tarango would continue to cruise, keeping the Heroes’ offense limited, and finishing the game with three runs on six hits allowed with six strike outs.

“I think the nerves were definitely there in the beginning, but I just kept telling them to keep playing their game,” James said. “They know what to do, they know how to play, so they just needed to settle in and calm down, and luckily they did.”

James said the big adjustment her team needs to make is to start out hot in each game they play during the tournament, mentioning that she wants her batters to be aggressive early and put pressure on opposing teams.

“We can’t take so long to really get into the game like we did tonight,” James said. “We did well though, we did what we were supposed to do. But the competition is going to get better and better as we go on, so our bats need to be hot from the beginning.”

The first round, mercy-rule win sets up the Dust Devils for a date with Kingman Academy in the quarterfinals.

The Tigers are fresh off of a shutout win over St. Johns in their first-round game and serve as the fifth seed in the 2A tournament.

The Dust Devil head coach said that she hopes this first game allowed her team to get the playoff jitters out of their system, as well as get into a good rhythm that will carry them throughout the tournament.

“We need to stay on that same path that we have been on from the beginning,” James. “We always take it one game at a time, we know each game is going to get tougher, so we just have to play our game, at the end of the day, if we keep playing our game, I think we will be fine.”

The Dust Devils will make the long trip from Eloy to Phoenix Rose Mofford Sports Complex once again on Saturday as first pitch is set for 5 p.m. against Kingman Academy.

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David Church is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. He can be reached at dchurch@pinalcentral.com.

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