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 Rocker, Emily 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.