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Freshman Alyssa Aguilar almost unhittable as Salpointe Catholic wins state softball title

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TEMPE — With the ninth-grader settled down, all Salpointe needed was a big hit. It figured to come from the top of the order.

“At first, I was thinking a lot,” said Yannira Acuna of her key sixth-inning at-bat. “I just had to focus on the pitcher and myself. One pitch at a time. Block everything out and get that base hit.”

Acuna’s big hit broke a scoreless tie and freshman pitcher Alyssa Aguilar (14-3) tossed a three-hit shutout, retiring the last 13 to come to the plate in Salpointe’s 2-0 win Tuesday night over Glendale Cactus in the 4A state softball championship game at Farrington Stadium at Arizona State University.

“It’s just crazy that I was able to do this with my team,” said Aguilar. “I just wanted to do it for them.”

Acuna, the fifth-seeded Lancers’ leadoff hitter who grounded out in her first two trips to the plate, delivered with a triple in leading the Lancers to their first state softball championship in 22 years and a bit of redemption from coming close the last three seasons.

But it still came with a freshman in the circle.

“I think it’s because she knew the seniors had her back,” Salpointe coach Amy Baray-Rocha said in explaining her ninth-grader’s poise on Tuesday. “The seniors were here before as freshmen, like her. They weren’t going to let her down.”

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Salpointe Catholic catcher Erika Marquez, center, celebrates with teammates after winning the Class 4A state title game over Glendale Cactus on Tuesday.

Salpointe fell two wins short of the state title game in 2017 and lost 9-2 to Cienega in 2015, the Lancers’ last appearance in the state final.

The Lancers (33-4) didn’t muster much offense against Cactus starter McKenna Feringa (14-2), getting a swinging bunt single by Malaea Rocha in the fourth and Kim McDaniels’ infield single in the fifth.

But for Salpointe in the sixth, Alyssa Oritz reached on a swinging bunt to third to get things started. Acuna followed with the big hit — a triple over the head of Cactus left fielder Kaiulani Nowell to score Marquez. Nowell threw wildly home, allowing Acuna to score to make it 2-0.

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Salpointe Catholic's Alyssa Ortiz scores on an RBI triple by teammate Yannira Acuna as Cactus catcher Kaytlin Leyvas looks for the throw to the plate during the sixth inning of the girl's 4A state championship softball game at Farrington Stadium on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz.

Aguilar allowed a single and a double in the third but struck out cleanup hitter Emilie Guerra to end the threat.

“After that I was settled in, I knew all the batters,” Aguilar said.

She then put the No. 3 Cobras (30-5) down in order over the final four innings.

“I even told the coach this game was going extra innings,” Aguilar said after the game remained scoreless after five.

The Lancers had to beat top seed and defending state champion Canyon del Oro twice, on successive Thursdays at Pima Community College, to reach the final.

Both teams, who were both eliminated in the semifinals last season, had gone 4-0 in the state tournament.

The Lancers won the state title in 1993 and in 1996 — with Coach Rocha at catcher. They were runner-up in 1988.