Canyon del Oro reached the pinnacle of high school softball last season.
The Dorados went 35-1, won the 4A-I state championship and finished No. 2 nationally in the final ESPN Powerade Fab 50 rankings.
But they lost superstar Mattie Fowler - now at Nebraska - and her 14 wins, seven saves, 0.85 ERA, 17 home runs, 91 RBIs and .569 batting average. Also gone were Kayla Henry's .566 average and 30 stolen bases and pitcher Kiley Riaca's 12-1 record.
Then, adding insult to injury, head coach Kelly Fowler resigned.
So it makes sense that this season would be a rebuilding year, right?
The Dorados are the No. 2 seed in the Division II playoffs and could be just three wins from defending their state title under first-year coach Stephanie Nicholson in this year's double-elimination tournament.
So how is Canyon del Oro back in the hunt after losing some key cogs from a team that ran rampant through its competition a season ago?
"The girls believe in me," Nicholson said. "I think they've found that I've been where they've been."
The Dorados are 29-4 and play rival Ironwood Ridge in the fourth round of the Division II playoffs today at 11 a.m. at Cherry Field.
This is the fourth matchup between the schools this year, with Ironwood Ridge holding a 2-1 advantage. Here's a look at the season's first three matchups, which were decided by a combined five runs:
Feb. 25: Ironwood Ridge 5, Canyon del Oro 4
• Backstory: The rivals' first meeting came in the championship game of the Dorado Classic. The Dorados took a 4-2 lead into the sixth, but the Nighthawks tied it with two runs in the inning before walking off in the seventh.
• Magic number: 1. There was just one lead change in the game, and it didn't come until Ironwood Ridge walked off in the seventh.
Feb. 28: Canyon del Oro 12, Ironwood Ridge 11
• Backstory: CDO's Kayla Bonstrom and I-Ridge's Makayla McAdams were in the circle for the second straight game, but the results were different this time. Shortstop Briana Dohogne paced the Dorado offense, going deep twice. I-Ridge second baseman Sarah Rodriguez also hit two bombs, and Bonstrom went deep in a game with six home runs.
• Magic number: 29. The two teams combined for 29 hits.
April 3: Ironwood Ridge 3, Canyon del Oro 0
• Backstory: McAdams bounced back from the blasting she received in the second meeting, hurling a shutout and allowing just five hits. Alexis Clinton hit a two-run home run in the fifth to push the score to the 3-0 final.
After the game, CDO catcher Samantha Nettling predicted today's matchup.
"I believe that we'll see (Ironwood Ridge) again," Nettling said. "We're the two best teams in our division, in my mind."
• Magic number: 200. The win was the 200th in I-Ridge history.
State schedule / B7