TEMPE — When Kayla Green and four other seniors joined Cienega’s softball team as freshmen back in the fall of 2011, the Bobcats were coming off three straight trips to the state championship game and were just two years removed from winning the Class 4A title.
Coach Eric Tatham figured it would be no time at all before his team would be lifting another trophy.
The wait lasted longer than expected but the future arrived Monday night.
Fourth-seeded Cienega cruised to a 9-2 win against No. 2 Salpointe Catholic at ASU’s Farrington Softball Stadium in the Division II state championship game, giving the Bobcats their second state championship in program history and first since 2010.
“It’s so special,” Green said. “It’s even more special with the seniors that I’m taking it out with. I love them to death and I’m going to miss them so much.”
Green, who is signed to play for New Mexico State, struck out five and kept the Lancers in check once again on her way to her third complete-game victory against them this spring.
The win sends Green and her fellow four-year starters — Bailey Pavelich, Melanie Cross, Mickaela Keiser and Shelby Kennedy — out as champions, something Tatham couldn’t be happier about.
“It’s huge for them,” Tatham said. “They talked about it all the time, how they didn’t want to leave here falling short of their goals. Today they met them.”
Cienega scored just three runs in each of its two previous wins against Salpointe (29-8) this season, including a 3-1 victory against the Lancers less than a week ago.
But the Bobcats (26-8) went up 3-0 after their first at-bat on Monday evening.
“I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous to play Salpointe again,” said Keiser, the shortstop. “They’re an amazing team, a great ball club, and I’m overjoyed that we won that game.”
Kennedy led off the bottom of the first inning with a walk and quickly stole second base, extending her career total to 76.
Moments later, she stole third and then came home when nobody was there to catch the attempt to throw her out, as the ball sailed into left field.
“There was nothing better than starting the game scoring like that,” said Kennedy, who has signed with Yale.
Just when it looked like Salpointe pitcher Delfina Morales was going to get out of the inning with giving up just one run, Cienega sophomore left fielder Taylor Lambert came up with a two-out, full-count, two-run triple to make it 3-0.
The Bobcats pushed their lead to 4-0 on an RBI double by sophomore No. 9 hitter Tori Brown in the next inning and then broke the game completely open in the bottom of the fourth on a three-run double by Cross, the Wisconsin-bound catcher.
“We’ve been working for it all four years and we finally got it as seniors,” Cross said. “It’s great to leave on this note.”
Cienega reached the postseason in each of the last three years but could never get past the third round: It was the No. 2 seed in each of the last two seasons but lost consecutive games once getting into double-elimination play.
“This year we were dead set on getting past that game and making it here,” Keiser said. “Since the beginning of the season, our goal was to play on the last day of the season and we did it.”
Contact high school sports coordinator Daniel Gaona at 807-7761 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @DanielGaona13