Editor’s note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen is counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports. Today’s list: the top 10 state softball champions in Southern Arizona history.
Billy Lopez wasn’t your typical champion-in-waiting softball coach. That’s because he spent his formative years coaching football and wrestling at Sahuaro High School.
But by the time Lopez retired in 2004, he had coached the Cougars to six state softball championships in one of the most remarkable coaching careers in Tucson prep history.
Lopez, one of 13 children of Mexican immigrants, graduated from Tucson High in 1957, earned a degree at NAU and became a Spanish teacher and a football/wrestling coach on the first-ever Sahuaro High staff, 1968-69.
He became the Cougars’ softball coach in 1987 and a year later, as softball emerged as a one of Tucson’s most successful sports, coached the Cougars to a 25-1 season, the first of his six state championships.
Lopez’s first championship team was a preview of the next 30 years of Tucson softball: pitcher Kassandra Liechty went 20-1 with seven no-hitters. Liechty established the template for Tucson’s pitching-rich softball culture in winning the first so-called modern state softball championship in Tucson history.
Narrowing Tucson’s state softball champions to a group of 10 was ridiculously difficult. Here’s our list:
1. Canyon del Oro, 2011. The Dorados outscored opponents 407-68 and finished 35-1, avenging their only loss (to Cienega) in the state final, 11-1. Coach Kelly Fowler’s club was led by her daughter, Mattie, who drove in a state-record 91 runs and hit .569. Kayla Bonstrom hit .554, Kayla Henry .566 as the Dorados had an unrivaled .443 team batting average. Some say the ’11 Dorados were the best team in state history.
2. Sabino, 2005. At 33-1, it’s arguable that the Sabercats of coach Galen Paton were the best-ever in Tucson. Pitcher Valerie George was a sizzling 28-0. She pitched a two-hitter, striking out 15, in the state title game against Goodyear Millennium. The Sabercats produced future Kentucky All-America shortstop Molly Johnson and UA outfielder Karissa Buchanan.
3. Flowing Wells, 2000. The best of coach Armando Quiroz’s three state championship teams (30-5), the ’00 Caballeros had five All-Southern Arizona players: 16-game-winning sophomore pitcher Ashley Monceaux and feared hitters Stephanie Nicholson, Rebekah Quiroz, Blair Holck, Candace Abrams and Stephanie Gonzales.
4. Canyon del Oro, 2009. Pitcher Kenzie Fowler’s senior season resulted in a 34-2 finish, and CDO outscored its opponents 290-25. Fowler was 24-2 with a 0.03 ERA and 22 shutouts.
5. Sahuaro, 2001. Lopez’s final state championship team finished 32-2 behind pitching star Courtnay Foster, a junior, later a College World Series standout at Northwestern. The Cougars went 17-0 down the stretch as Maren Christensen and Pauline Glenn led the way.
6. Cienega, 2010. Eric Tatham’s Bobcats were 28-2, including a 21-0 spurt to finish the season, and outscored foes 273-42. Cienega’s lineup was littered with college signees, including All-State pitcher Alexa Cash, who struck out 18 in the state championship game. Ashlee Brawley and Emily Pohl were the hitting stars, breaking Peoria Sunrise Mountain’s two-year run as state champs in the title game.
7. Sunnyside, 2007. The 32-4 Blue Devils, coached by Pete Palomarez , rallied behind sophomore pitcher Mari Contreras, who went 10-1 and got a boost from top hitters Kaleigh Gates, Estela Piñon and Melina Trujillo.
8. Pueblo, 1990. At 25-2, the Warriors had a magical season. Southern Arizona player of the year Susie Duarte hit .524 and outfielder Valerie Zepeda .462 with 40 stolen bases. Pitcher Jennifer Navallez led coach Lisa Piña’s club with an 11-1 record and hit .413.
9. Sahuaro, 1988. Not only did Liechty win 20 of 21 games, she had an 0.34 ERA and hit .392, winning the state championship game 10-0 over Salpointe Catholic.
10. Salpointe Catholic, 1993. Stacy Iveson, rebuilding the Lancers in just two seasons, piloted Salpointe to a 30-2 record and the state title. Catcher Tanya Farhat hit .470 with 32 stolen bases and pitcher Tara Robinson had a 0.42 ERA.
Waiting list: The 2011 Sahuarita Mustangs went 32-4, winning coach Chris Fanning’s second state championship. Pitcher Yvette Alvarez posted one of the most impressive individual seasons in state history, going 30-4 with 305 strikeouts and hitting .487 with 19 home runs and 81 RBIs.