The toe was bothersome, but not being behind the plate was worse.

Ali Cerminara missed some action early in her senior year after surgery on her foot because of a bunion. When she returned, she saw time at designated hitter and the corner infield spots.

While glad to be back contributing to the Desert Vista lineup, she wasn’t at her normal position of catcher.

It’s who she is and what she does.

And it wasn’t a coincidence the team’s level of play increased once she was back behind the plate as the Cal State East Bay recruit hit .388 with 20 RBIs. Her season led her to being one of nine area players to earn All-Tribune honorable mention honors.

“Everyone feels so much more confident when she is back there,” Thunder coach Chris Crowl said during the season. “She is finally healthy for us and given us a big jolt. Maddie Kelly was catching for us and did a great job, but Ali knows (pitcher) Dani (Block) so well and (Dani) has a bounce in her step.

“Ali has meant so much to this program because of the way she plays the game and how everyone follows her lead.”

Mountain View softball knows a little something about having a player at that level.

The Toros’ Val Kaff has been pitching since age 6.

It’s the only position she’s played, and will continue to play. She enjoys being a focal point and being in control (mostly) of a game’s outcome.

Of course, it’s easy to say this when you’re possibly more responsible for a team’s success in 2013 than anyone else in Arizona.

Mountain View wasn’t prolific offensively (.298 team batting average and five runs per game average) or defensively in 2013, yet because of Kaff’s 0.81 earned run average, 431 strikeouts (which led Arizona and crushed her own school record of 301 set last year), the Toros won the Dorado Classic, earned the No. 5 seed in the Division I state tournament, and reached the semifinals.

“It made me mentally stronger because we better keep it close or go extra innings,” she said. “I didn’t really feel the pressure, but I knew I had to be on my game.”

In strictly high school softball, she threw 456 innings since her sophomore year (she pitched part-time as a freshman), and at times the wear and tear showed physically and in performance by season’s end.

But not this year, and even though the 2013 Tribune Player of the Year was beaten by Chaparral in the semifinals (Kaff suffered a shoulder injury late in the game trying to dive back to a base), the Toros were understandably compelled to ride their senior ace for however long she could stand up.

“I don’t even count how many pitches I throw in a game,” she said.

Kaff threw 16 shutouts among her 27 wins this season, including a one-hit (the first batter of the game), 20-strikeout performance against Desert Vista in the second round of the state tournament, followed by a shutout of No. 1 seed Glendale Mountain Ridge.

Her next lineup of victims will come in college at Michigan State, which Kaff chose over San Diego, Utah and New Mexico State because of the lure of Big Ten softball and being surrounded by greenery.

Aware of how good the high school/club competition is in Arizona, Kaff might get her chance right away to find out how a major college conference fares against her fastball and riseball, since she said there are no plans to redshirt.

Kaff went to freshmen orientation in East Lansing recently, and with club ball tournaments filling her summer before leaving for school Aug. 23, the lack of vacation time might worry most, but doing anything else isn’t of interest, even if it means moving 1,500 miles away.

“It’s far, but I need that experience,” she said. “I always wanted to go to a big school and a big conference. I’m nervous about the winters, but our season is in spring and we have indoor (practices). The change of leaves and cool air will be nice.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN. Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at or (480) 898-6576.

Memorable Moments from the 2013 Season

Four galore: There’s still no stopping Red Mountain. After winning an unprecedented fourth big-school state championship in their fifth consecutive trip to the finals, the Lions still may not be done. Behind a pair of top-notch pitchers in Bre Macha and Marian Ruf, a deep lineup led by Macha, Jordan Beck and Alyssa Fernandez, a whole lot of work on defense and a change in some attitudes from March to May, the Lions ravaged the competition by a 39-9 margin in the postseason. The Lions and Peoria Sunrise Mountain (Division II) left little doubt as to who the best teams in the state were in 2013.

Tournament treats: Plenty of non-Red Mountain side stories exploded throughout the season and postseason. Perry got off to a sizzling start to the season, which included capturing the Marcos de Niza/McClintock tournament title over Williams Field. Mountain View won the Dorado Classic in Tucson, and Xavier won both the Sun Blast and Gator Kickoff tournaments for a second consecutive season. Led by Tamara Statman and Margaret Stahm, Horizon won the Marcos de Niza/Dobson tournament in late February, then won the Desert Mountain tournament in late March by beating juggernauts Basha, Red Mountain and Canyon del Oro.

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