When the Ironwood Ridge softball team blew out rival Canyon del Oro 17-0 just 11 days ago, it may have been exactly what the fourth-seeded Dorados needed – a wake-up call.
Since that point, CDO has won four straight games and outscored opponents 34-6 to earn a spot in today’s Division II state championship game at ASU’s Farrington Softball Stadium.
Meanwhile, the No. 5 Nighthawks (26-7) put together back-to-back wins to return to the championship game for the second straight season and set up the ultimate showdown at 5:30 p.m. in Tempe.
It will be the third time in the last five weeks that CDO and I-Ridge play each other and the 11th time over the last three seasons. However, this will be the first time the two Oro Valley powers meet in the state final.
“It’s too bad we’re not going to play it here in Tucson because I think it would be a good crowd,” first-year I-Ridge coach Rich Alday said.
“The rivalry is there and I hope it’s going to be a great ballgame.”
Even though the Nighthawks needed just five innings to get past CDO in the third round of the state playoffs on May 8, he knows the stakes will be entirely different today as I-Ridge tries to win its first softball state title.
“It’ll be different,” Alday said. “I don’t think it will be a blowout for either one of us, at least I hope not.”
CDO (28-7) has beaten the Nighthawks in all three regular-season meetings over the last two seasons, including a 6-4 win at home on April 15.
But the Dorados have beaten I-Ridge just once in their last four postseason meeting.
The last time they topped the Nighthawks in the playoffs was in 2012, one round before CDO won its eighth state crown and first under coach Stephanie Nicholson.
“The will to want to win has changed,” Nicholson said about her squad since its loss to I-Ridge. “When you get a wake-up call like that from your rival, it kind of puts things in perspective and allows the team to play every single out like it could be their last.
“This game is going to have a lot of hype behind it. Playing Ironwood is always a good game, so we can’t wait to get on the field.”
Today will mark the final game for several seniors on both sides, including CDO catcher Samantha Nettling and I-Ridge pitcher Emily Robinson, two players who have played a large role in their team’s success over the last four years. But unlike Nettling, Robinson doesn’t have a state title under belt. She and the Nighthawks are hoping to change that tonight.
“Their goal is to finish it,” Alday said. “They want to finish the season with a victory.”