MESA — It was almost one year ago to the day that Superior and Williams met a 1A conference semifinals game.
There was a sense of déjà vu on Thursday afternoon as the two teams met yet again in the semifinals.
For Superior Danika Bryant was in the circle just as she was last year. For Williams it was a Mortensen. Last year it was Sydnee Mortensen who helped lead the Vikings to the trophy last year and has since graduated. This year, little sister, Kai took over pitching duties.
The outcome this year was different as the Panthers are the ones to advance to the state championship as they defeated the Vikings 4-0.
“It feels fantastic,” Superior coach Alfonso Lopez said of going back to the state title game. “I can’t express it. I’m just so proud of them because they’ve worked so hard all year. We’re doing great we just have one more game and we just gotta keep it up.”
In a game where runs were hard to come by, it seemed that it would come down to which team was more aggressive on the base paths.
Williams made a gutsy call in the first inning as Kadance Orozco was at third with two outs. Orozco attempted to steal home as Superior's catcher tossed the ball back to Bryant outside of the circle between pitches.
The senior for Superior remained calmed and tossed the ball back to her catcher in time to tag Orozco for the final out of the inning.
It a pitcher's duel between Bryant and Mortensen, but it was Analise Hollenbeck who gave Superior the upper hand, offensively, in the fourth inning as she legged out a bunt single. Two passed balls later and she was standing on third with no outs.
Myika Cruz followed with a slow roller to Williams’ shortstop who fielded the ball and threw to first as Cruz beat the throw and allowed Hollenbeck to score.
The next two Panthers grounded out to end the inning as they led 1-0.
For a brief moment the Vikings thought they had managed to tie the game in the fifth inning.
Bradyn Larimore reached base with one out on a throw error by Superior’s shortstop and ended up at second base.
Jessica Zabala laid down a bunt that was fielded by the Panthers’ catcher who threw to first for the out. Larimore took off running and never let up as she slid face first across home. Zabala was called out at home for the second out of the inning.
As Vikings fans celebrated what they thought was the tying run, one of the infield umpires called Larimore out for leaving the base early which ended the inning and erased the run.
Superior added an insurance run in the bottom half as Mira Estatico led off the frame with a triple and scored on Chiara Marquez’s single up the middle.
The Panthers’ other two runs came in the sixth as Hollenbeck and Cruz both scored after reaching base on a single.
Bryant tossed a one-hit gem for the Panthers as she struck out 15. Mortensen scattered six hits for Williams with six strikeouts.
The Panthers and Vikings met in the regular season in early April. The Vikings took that game 5-4 despite Bryant limiting them to just two hits.
Lopez said Thursday’s game was a bit more in their realm as they didn’t travel all the way up to Williams this time around.
“It was a long trip and to be honest our girls don’t do well on long away trips,” he said. “They’re a good team, I’m not taking anything away from them. Danika pitched a heck of a game today. I’m proud of these girls, they’ve worked hard all year for this and it’s starting to payoff.”
Superior is back in the title game for the first time since 2019 when they fell to Ray. The last time the Panthers won the championship was the year before in 2018.
The Panthers will face fellow Pinal County foe San Manuel on Friday at 8 p.m. at Arizona State’s Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium in Tempe.
During the regular season the two teams split their meeting 1-1 as both games were decided by one run. They also faced off in the Hayden Softball Tournament and also split the two games they played.
“We’ve seen them quite a bit and they’ve seen us so it’s gonna be a real barn burner,” Lopez said. “We have two great pitchers going at each other.”