PHOENIX - In many aspects, the way the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks played in Friday night's 5A-II state championship game mirrored the recent victories that landed them there.
Junior pitcher Makayla McAdams pitched solidly, giving up no more than two hits in any inning. And the offense was scarce but timely, as junior shortstop Robin Landrith took advantage of a walk and a hit batsman by cranking out a three-run home run.
The only real difference was the result, which for the first time in more than three weeks, was a loss. Glendale Deer Valley, behind the arm and bat of senior pitcher Lauren Haeger, defeated Ironwood Ridge 4-3 at Rose Mofford Softball Complex.
Haeger pitched a complete-game three-hitter, striking out 15, and also belting a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the seventh, which turned out to be the game-winner.
"I'd watched her one time" before, Nighthawks coach Randy Anway said of Haeger.
"We knew that she was going to get hers. We just had to keep battling; that was part of the game plan."
Haeger faltered just once, in the third inning, and Landrith made her pay. Haeger walked Ironwood Ridge outfielder Lauren Robinson, then struck out Rachel Synkelma before plunking Erin Satterfield to put two runners on.
Jordan Rocker grounded into a fielders' choice, bringing Landrith up with two outs.
"It felt really good," Landrith said of her homer, which easily sailed over the center field wall and gave the Nighthawks a 3-1 lead.
"It was a turning point, and it was definitely a time where we took the momentum back, and we had it for a while."
The lead stood into the sixth inning until Deer Valley (30-6) tied the game with a solo homer and a single that led to an Ironwood Ridge error on the throw in.
Meanwhile, Haeger retired the final 12 Ironwood Ridge batters, setting up her own seventh-inning heroics.
Leading off the frame, Haeger sent McAdams' fastball flying over the fence in right-center field.
"I was thinking base hit, base hit, we needed one run," Haeger said. "Just a base hit up the middle.
"But I got my pitch, and I got all of it."
With the exception of senior first baseman Dani Colwill, Ironwood Ridge (30-7) will return its entire roster for next season, something that provided a bit of consolation.
"We can have confidence that we'll do very well next year because we have all these returners," Landrith said. "We'll just come right back and go at it again."
DEER VALLEY 4