PHOENIX - On the first day of practice in February, Pusch Ridge Christian outlined its goals for the season. At the top of that list was making it back to the state championship game and avenging last year's blowout loss to Benson.
The top-seeded Lions will get that chance after an 8-3 win over No. 4 Phoenix Northwest Christian on Friday in the Division IV playoffs at Rose Mofford Sports Complex.
"That's really all I've been thinking about," Pusch Ridge pitcher Corrie Ward said. "I'm so glad we're there."
Pusch Ridge will play sixth-seeded St. Johns at 5 p.m. today at Rose Mofford for the state title.
Ward tossed a complete game, striking out five and scattering eight hits while allowing one earned run. She also went 3 for 4 at the plate, scoring twice.
"Corrie has been phenomenal for four years," Lions coach Bob Vance said. "She's one of the best pitchers we've ever seen."
Pusch Ridge scored seven runs in the third inning, taking advantage of three Northwest Christian errors that led to four unearned runs. The big blow in the inning was a two-run double by first baseman Maddie Dowdle that put the Lions on top 4-1.
"That makes pitching a lot easier," Ward said of the big inning. "I don't have to worry about doing all the work and not letting anyone get on base or anything."
Pusch Ridge jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second, but Northwest Christian scored in the top of the third to tie the game until the floodgates opened for the Lions.
Shortstop Sarah Majors walked to start the frame, then catcher Rachel Ward singled, and the ball was booted by left fielder Ashley Neal, putting runners on second and third with no outs.
After Corrie Ward singled in a run, Dowdle doubled, and the rout was on as seven straight runners crossed the plate - thanks in part to a throwing error on a dropped third strike and a ball booted by shortstop Sarah Gonzales.
"I thought this game we were going to be tense, but we really weren't at all," Ward said. "I hope we can do that tomorrow."
Three Pusch Ridge hitters were called out for making contact with the ball while they were outside the batter's box - a call Ward said hadn't been made against the Lions before Friday.
PUSCH RIDGE 8
NW CHRISTIAN 3