Winning pitcher Makayla McAdams, center, celebrates with Rachel Synkelma after Ironwood Ridge beat Sahuaro 13-2 in five innings.


No one ever wants their final high school game to be a loss. Luckily that wasn't a problem for the Cienega softball team that lost 11-1 in five innings against Canyon del Oro in last year's state championship game.

The Bobcats don't have to worry about filling any holes on their roster because there were no seniors on last year's squad. And with the infusion of some young talent, Cienega is primed to make another run at a championship.

"We have really strong senior leadership and a new batch of girls that can come in and make a difference," said fifth-year coach Eric Tatham. "As a coach, it's a great position to be in."

The Bobcats have made it to the state championship game three years in a row, winning it all in 2010. The team knows what it takes to get to the big game.

Here are three things Cienega must do to take the final step and win the 2012 state championship.

1. Acclimate the new girls

Freshmen are expected to be contributing members of the team, and it's the job of upperclassmen to bring them up to speed. Whether it's base running do's and don'ts or team traditions, the juniors and seniors make it a point to make sure the underclassmen are ready for any situation.

Freshman Shelby Kennedy has already found her place on the team as the leadoff batter and utility player.

"Everybody has been really supportive and helpful," she said. "I can't wait until I'm in their position, helping the new group of girls like the older girls have helped me."

2. Practice

As cliché as it might sound, the Bobcats practice habits are vital to keeping the winning tradition alive. By keeping the competition level high, no one can assume their role is safe. The Bobcats know good practices can turn into wins, but they also know what can happen after a poor practice.

"If we've had a bad week of practice, it definitely shows up in the game," said senior Stephanie Tatham. "So every day we make sure that we're practicing harder than the other teams out there."

3. Use that championship experience

The seniors on this year's team have seen it all. Losing two state championship games and winning one, they have been through the full spectrum of postseason emotions. And although losing is never easy, the opportunity to play in a state championship is an experience every senior wants the freshmen to have.

"Losing last year was hard at the time, and I never want to feel like that again," said senior Valerie Luera. "Us seniors have been lucky enough to consistently be in the championship game, and that's something we want the younger girls to experience."

Watch list

• Sarah Andrews, Jr., Cienega

• Amy Bergeson, So., Sahuaro

• Kayla Bonstrom, Sr., Canyon del Oro

• Alyssa Fletcher, Sr., Sabino

• Robin Landrith, Sr., Ironwood Ridge

• Makayla McAdams, Sr., Ironwood Ridge

• Morgan McKeever, Sr., Sahuaro

• Sammy Nettling, So., Canyon del Oro

• Samantha Noland, Sr., Canyon del Oro

• Stephanie Tatham, Sr., Cienega

Note: Athletes chosen by Star staff in consultation with area coaches.