The Thunder had one last rally in a standard-setting season, but it wasn’t enough.
While arguably the best season in Desert Vista softball history ended, Horizon advanced to another "elimination" game on Tuesday night against the loser of Monday night's Red Mountain-Desert Ridge winner's bracket matchup.
The Horizon coach wasn't impressed with her team's performance in Saturday's 4-3 victory against one of the feel-good stories of this postseason in No. 20 Desert Vista.
Her team found ways to stay alive for at least a few more days in the Division I state tournament, but Lindsey Collins wasn't gushing.
The No. 8-seeded Huskies received another excellent pitching performance from sophomore ace Tamara Statman, got big hits from the middle of the order (Margaret Stahm and Kaila Jacobi) and played well enough on defense.
But aware of the schools left in this tournament, and after her team's 1-0 loss to Mountain Ridge which put them into the elimination bracket, Collins was still seeking answers about where her team's hitting has been.
"We need to dig a little deeper with our approach," Collins said. "We've been hitting every day for a week, live pitching, batting practice, everything we can think of. For some reason it's not connecting."
It was a flat-out pitchers' duel between Statman and Desert Vista senior Danielle Block for the first five innings until Stahm cranked an RBI single in the fifth. Then with runners on first and third, Jacobi followed with a line-drive, three-run home run just over the left field fence to give the Huskies a 4-0 lead.
That seemed like the clincher, given Statman and her defense. The goggle-wearing sophomore mixed all of her pitches on both sides of the plate. Until the seventh, the Thunder had managed one hit (a single by Madison Bailey in the first inning).
But this hasn't been the best season for the Thunder, or a remarkable postseason run - "upset" wins against No. 13 Xavier and No. 4 Gilbert before losing another close one to Mountain View on Thursday - for nothing.
With one out in the seventh, a bloop double to right field by Aly Cerminara was followed by a Horizon error to put runners on first and third. After Block fell behind 0-2 in the count her 12-pitch at bat ended in a pop fly for the second out, but Kylee Wiegl was next.
Wiegl had the big hit to help the Thunder beat Xavier in the first round, but had struck out in her two previous at-bats.
She didn't miss this one. A first-pitch fastball was launched over the left-field fence for a three-run home run to pull the Thunder (21-13) within 4-3.
But Statman came back to strike out Madison Kelly to end the game. She allowed two hits and two earned runs with 10 strikeouts on the day.
"She was hitting her spots," Collins said. "Sometimes she comes out a little bit shaky but she found it early on."
Other than the one pitch to Jacobi, Block was nearly as good for the game. She allowed eight hits and a walk, but a couple nice defensive plays in the infield squashed Horizon's chances. She struck out seven to cap her terrific high school career.
"This has been, hands down, the best season we've had," Thunder coach Chris Crowl said. "The seniors drove us and gave us everything, and helped move the (underclassmen) along. Even in the last inning you saw them fight to the end.
In Block (who'll play at Southern Mississippi this fall), Bailey, Cerminara and Rebecca Perez, the Thunder lose their starting battery and a lot of offense to graduation, even while a host of younger players saw varsity action.
"We didn't get the bats going early like we should have," Crowl said. "That was the key."
Blame Statman for that, and two swings from Horizon's No. 3-4 hitters.
"A win is a win," Collins said. "We have to figure out a way to do better. Do I think we can? Heck, yeah."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.