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Life of Riley: Nielson pitches complete-game shutout as Sabino captures 3A state softball title

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Sabino’s Riley Nielson celebrates the Sabercats' 8-0 win over Winslow in Friday's Class 3A State championship game at Farrington Stadium in Tempe. The Sabercats have won three straight state titles.

TEMPE — Sabino continued its dominant run through the Class 3A state tournament with an 8-0 win over No. 2 Winslow in Friday’s state championship game at Farrington Stadium.

The top-seeded Sabercats (32-3) won their third consecutive state championship, each coming under a different coach. Their only losses came to No. 1 Salpointe Catholic, the top seed in the 4A state bracket, and 6A’s Mesa Mountain View.

“It’s amazing and with the changing of the coaches it just goes to show the standard of the program,” said Sabino coach Cyndi Cubillas. “We look at our seniors and where they started as freshmen and where they are now, they’ve really set the standard.”

Sabino cruised by Winslow in a game that lasted just 72 minutes.

Sabino’s Bailey Nichols slides safely into home against Winslow pitcher Mykenzie Flores.

Ace Riley Nielson (19-2) pitched a two-hitter, surrendering both of them in the bottom of the seventh inning. She struck out 10 and walked one. The Southern Utah signee also drove in the first run of the game.

“Riley’s a workhorse and it’s incredible to watch her,” Cubillas said.

The state title is Sabino’s third straight; the team won in 2019 and 2021, with the 2020 tournament canceled due to the pandemic. The Sabercats also won state championships in 1991 and 2005 in 4A; they finished second to Flowing Wells in 1999.

A state title “feels really great,” said junior shortstop Jesamin Aguilar, who scored the first run after leading off the game with a double. “We had like the same group of girls last year so we all know each other, so it was pretty great.”

The Sabercats outscored opponents 44-7 in the state tournament, with Empire — their semifinal opponent — being the only foe to score on the champs. The Sabercats won that game 16-7.

Sabino players hold their Class 3A state championship trophy following Friday's 8-0 win over Winslow.

“It feels great just to be able to go through these different coaches and know I can play my game through any challenges,” Nielson said.

Nielson’s RBI sacrifice fly in the first was the only score until the bottom of the fourth, when junior catcher Gianna Pancost hit a solo home run.

Sabino plated six runs in the sixth to put the game away. Senior first baseman Ashley Stewart and junior third baseman Bailey Nichols both hit RBI doubles.

After a couple runs scored on a passed ball and an error, Aguilar hit a two-run homer.


Nielson said a lot of her success was due to Pancost, who calls the games.

“I’m feeling pretty good about my performance, I think a lot of the credit has to go to my catcher, ‘G’; she worked so hard behind the plate,” Nielson said. “She’s just a workhorse back there framing balls — she calls the game, so she’s just amazing.”

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