Photo of Sunnyside Little League softball team, 2013 Arizona state Little League Majors Girls champions, 12-under. Photo courtesy of Joe Urrea

Sunnyside's softball team has represented Arizona at the Little League Western Regionals in each of the last two years.

The squad is hoping the outcome will be different in its third trip.

The south-side 12-and-under club will be thinking World Series or bust today when it opens pool play in San Bernardino, Calif., against Southern California. The winner will advance to the Little League World Series in Portland, Ore.

"I think it's our time," coach Manny Tapia said. "I think we're ready to go."

Sunnyside, which calls Mission Manor Park home, made it to the finals of the regional last year.

The Star recently caught up with the team to find out how this team made it to this point:

High-scoring offense

Sunnyside outscored opponents 131-1 in six games, including a 9-0 win over Queen Creek for the state championship and a trip to regionals.

Third baseman Araceli Gutierrez hit a two-run homer in that game to put her team up 6-0.

"I was actually kind of surprised because it was my first one and I didn't know what to think," Gutierrez said.

Among the other offensive leaders are catcher Arlette Ariola, who hit seven doubles and had 10 RBIs in the state tournament, and utility player Alex Tapia, who had six extra-base hits and seven walks.

Near-perfect pitching

Jasmine Ayala (5-0, 0.11 ERA) and Yanirra Acuña (4-0, 1.12) have combined for two no-hitters and a perfect 9-0 record through the city and state tournaments.

Ayala is batting .450 with eight RBIs, and Acuña has scored 15 runs in the leadoff spot.

"I'm excited and kind of nervous at the same time but mostly excited," Ayala said.

"I'm going to bring my 'A' game all game. I'm not planning to change anything."

Tapia said having two ace pitchers is huge because Little League rules require a pitcher to sit out the next day if they throw more than three innings. That was a problem for the team last year.

If Sunnyside needs a reliable third pitcher, Zuleika Barnett, who is 1-0, is also available.

A winning tradition

There are only four girls back from the team that went to San Bernardino last year, but this team could be even better.

The majority of the players were on the 9-10 team that won three straight state championships, so the talent and chemistry is there.

"We're hoping the third time is the charm with the experience and having been there before," coach Sam Gutierrez said.

"Going to the World Series would be a big boost for our community coming from the south side."


San Bernardino, Calif.

Pool play schedule

• Today: Arizona vs. Southern California, 11 a.m.

• Saturday: Arizona vs. Northern California, 11 a.m.

• Monday: Arizona vs. Hawaii, 8:30 a.m.

• Wednesday: Arizona vs. Utah, 5 p.m.

NOTE: Top two from this pool advance to Thursday's semifinals. Championship is next Friday.

Contact reporter Daniel Gaona at or 807-7761. On Twitter @DanielGaona13