Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Ironwood Ridge wins softball state championship

May 25, 2014 12:00 am

Arizona Daily Star sports columnist Greg Hansen offers his opinion on recent sports news of interest to Southern Arizonans.

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  • In the final moments of Ironwood Ridge’s 2-1 state championship softball victory Monday night, TV cameras focused on Nighthawks coach Rich Alday.

    It didn’t even look like Rich Alday. He had a goatee and a mustache. And for one of the few times in his distinguished career, he looked a bit nervous.

    He hadn’t shaved since the Nighthawks’ last loss, April 15 against Canyon del Oro. “My wife Norma hated it, but the girls said, ‘Don’t you dare shave; it’s good luck,” he said, laughing. “So I didn’t.”

    And even though Alday had coached 1,744 baseball games at Pima College and for the New Mexico Lobos — reaching the 1985 NJCAA championship game and twice coaching for Team USA in the Olympics — winning a state title can make a coach nervous.

    “Some of my friends told me that I was really giving my gum a workout,” he said. “I guess that’s how you can tell when I get a little nervous: I must’ve been tearing into my gum.”

    Alday has been a winner since he quarterbacked Tucson High School (12-0) to the 1965 state championship. He left New Mexico in 2007 with 515 Division I victories and returned to Tucson, apparently to retire.

    But when Randy Anway left Ironwood Ridge after the 2013 softball season, Alday was interested. He talked to Arizona’s Mike Candrea, who had switched from baseball to softball 30 years ago.

    “I had been umpiring, but I thought I could help the girls, and they were like sponges,” he said. “I told them they would like playing for me because it takes a lot to get me angry. I had to put my foot down three or four times, but otherwise we were able to have fun along the way.”

    Under Anway, Ironwood Ridge had been on the brink of a state championship for three years but couldn’t win the Big One. But this time, with only three seniors — Erin RockerEmily Robinson and Robyn Porter — playing regularly, Alday got it done.

    Has anyone gone longer between state championships than Alday, 1965 to 2014? It’s got to be a record.

    “It wasn’t me; don’t give me the credit,” he said. “The girls worked so hard; they had been so close. They wanted to finish it, and they did.”

    A day after the Nighthawks became state champions, Alday shaved. It was the look of a winner.

  • Spending in Pac-12 sports continues at an unprecedented pace. Last week, UCLA announced it would spend $35 million on a basketball practice facility, Cal priced tickets as high as $238 for a Thursday night football game at the 49ers’ new Levi Stadium against Oregon, and the Pac-12 said it would send 14 players to China for a series of basketball games in August.

    The basketball trip is fully unnecessary and is apt to cost more than $300,000 for what is likely to be a 25-person entourage headed by Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. It is part of commissioner Larry Scott’s “China initiative.” Arizona’s representative is walk-on guard Jacob Hazzard. ASU will send Bo Barnes. Yes, Bo Barnes.

    Why not take the $300,000 or so to be spent in China and begin a fund to someday pay student-athletes $2,000 per year above the value of their scholarships?

    One of these days, Pac-12 presidents are likely to ask that the league modify its approach and do more for students and less for the coaches and administrators who are becoming fabulously wealthy.

    Last week, Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart told the Star’s Bruce Pascoe that the league’s basketball schedule strategy — road trips that often begin on Tuesday and end Sunday night — might need review.

    “I can’t speak for the Pac-12 in particular, but it looks like there were some dysfunctional outcomes that maybe weren’t thought through fully when the negotiations occurred,” Hart said. “And the whole notion of increased, ubiquitous coverage? Maybe all of us need to talk about what we want as a community of leaders. Exactly how exploitative does this get?”

    Well said.

  • Desert Christian High School returns eight starters from a 29-2 team that won its second consecutive state championship last week. It will give coach Grant Hopkins a strong chance to become the first baseball team in Tucson to win three consecutive state titles since Tucson High from 1954-56. Hopkins’ star player, junior Zach Malis, completed the year with a .636 batting average and an 11-1 pitching record. He should be under serious state Player of the Year consideration with Palo Verde state title pitcher Tyler Falwell, 9-0 with a 1.21 ERA and a .392 batting average. Falwell has accepted a scholarship to pitch for Cochise College coach Todd Inglehart, who has become one of the leading coaches in junior-college baseball. After finishing No. 2 in the nation last year, Cochise is back at the NJCAA World Series this weekend. The Apaches start three Tucson players: Mountain View pitcher Steve Naemark, shortstop Jake Luna of Desert View and left fielder Francisco Silva of Sahuaro.

  • A year ago, CDO grad Kayla Bonstrom hit .404 at Stanford, was the Pac-12’s Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-Pac-12 selection. This year Bonstrom slumped a bit, hitting .333 and was an honorable mention all-league choice.

  • UA senior softball pitcher Kenzie Fowler, whose career has been betrayed by a series of injuries, has been hired by the Pac-12 Networks to work in its video and media departments. Fowler, from CDO, recently produced a series of video features on Arizona’s senior softball players. She plans to move to San Francisco this summer. Good for her.

  • Starring in the national championship game at Arizona hasn’t generally led to a big-time baseball career. UA senior pitcher James Farris completed his senior season 6-6, beating Abilene Christian in Friday’s series opener. Farris, who pitched 7⅔ innings in the championship game of the 2012 College World Series, went 11-11 after his streak of epic postseason performances in 2012. Bob Chaulk, who won the title game in the 1976 CWS for Arizona, did not pitch a year later, sidelined with an arm injury and never signed a pro contract. He became a banker in Southern California. Pitcher Gary Alexander, who won Arizona’s 1986 CWS title game, was drafted as a hitter and spent seven seasons in the minor-leagues, hitting a cumulative .246. He became a high school coach in Northern California. Only in 1980, when Craig Lefferts pitched the UA’s title game, did it lead to the big leagues. Lefferts spent 13 seasons in the majors. He is now the pitching coach for the Class A Beloit (Wisconsin) Snappers.

  • Salpointe grad Joe Serrano, the Star’s 2011 Southern Arizona Player of the Year, was hitting .303 for Arkansas through Friday, helping the No. 20 Razorbacks into the SEC tournament. He has a .304 career batting average in three Arkansas seasons.

  • 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist and Sahuaro grad Caitlin Leverenz earned her bachelor’s degree at Cal last week and then flew to Canada where she won the 400 IM in the Zajac International swim championships. Leverenz became an international swimming prospect at Tucson’s El Dorado Aquatic Club. That club has now folded, and about 40 of the swimmers have been absorbed by the Ford Aquatics program.

  • You could make a strong case that UA women’s golf coach Laura Ianello is among the most impressive young coaches in college sports: She coached the Wildcats to No. 7 in the NCAA finals last week, No. 8 a year ago, and No. 5 in 2010, her first season. Ianello loses just one starter, senior Manon Gidali, who was No. 7 overall in last week’s NCAA finals, and her team should open next year in the top 10. Ianello did all this while having her first child, Natalie, in March.

  • UA grad Alejandra Llaneza produced her finest moment on the LPGA Tour last week. She was 12th overall in the Kingsmill Championship, earning $19,641. She was a key part of the UA’s 2010 Pac-10 championship team.

  • Tucsonan George Cunningham, who will be a freshman golfer at Arizona in the fall, was at the HP Byron Nelson Championship last week to be honored as one of five winners of the Byron Nelson International Junior Golfers of the Year Award. Cunningham is ranked No. 13 among incoming college freshmen.

  • CDO grad Jaide Stepter won the Pac-12 title in the 400-meter hurdles last week and has the third-best time (56.99 seconds) in the country entering this week’s NCAA regionals. Stepter is a sophomore at USC.

  • Washington State’s longtime track coach, James Sloan, is retiring this season. The Cougars would almost surely like Arizona head cross-country/distance coach James Li to replace him, but that doesn’t appear likely. Li coached Bernard Lagat at WSU in the 1990s, and is generally regarded as one of the NCAA’s two or three most-accomplished distance coaches. If the UA can keep him, it’ll be a coup.

  • When Steve Kerr was introduced as Golden State’s head coach last week, Lute Olson flew to Oakland, California, to be at the ceremony. It has been 31 years since Olson first saw Kerr play in a summer league game in Los Angeles. Full circle, right?

  • When Arizona won the 2006 NCAA softball title, the Wildcats walked 71 opposing batters. This year they walked 290, a school record by such a margin that it was only the second time in school history UA pitchers walked more than 183 in a season.

    No wonder Arizona didn’t get to the Women’s College World Series.

    UA pitchers walked nine Louisiana-Lafayette batters in Friday’s Super Regional loss, and two in Saturday’s first inning as they fell hopelessly behind, 3-0.

    Lafayette’s Christina Hamilton, who shut down Arizona in both games, walked 62 batters all season, and none Saturday.

    Game over.

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