Mesa softball team advances to Super Regionals; baseball team lands top seed
DENVER — The look on Ashlee Duffy’s face Sunday afternoon said it all.
When the junior first baseman for the Mesa State College softball team stepped on the bag for the final out, her eyes flew open wide in disbelief.
Within seconds, she was mobbed by her teammates as the Mavericks started celebrating their Central sub-regional championship, 10-6 over Colorado State University-Pueblo.
“It was so quick,” said Duffy, a Central High School graduate. “Three in a row ... oh, OK, we just won! It was a complete shock.”
Duffy was wide-eyed earlier in the seventh inning after peeking up just in time to see she hit a tie-breaking, two-run home run to center.
“When I hit it, it felt so good off the bat but I didn’t want to look,” she said, grinning. “Please, just be a hit, please let us score. When I looked up I saw it was out, it was a shock. When I got back (to the dugout) I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t believe it.”
The game winner came in the midst of the Mavericks’ seven-run rally to sweep through the four-team tournament and earn a spot in one of eight Super Regionals in the NCAA Division II national playoffs.
Mesa State (30-19) plays a best-of-three series at sixth-ranked Winona (Minn.) State University (47-11), starting Friday.
Mesa State’s comeback from a 6-3 deficit with two outs in the top of the seventh — a loss would have forced a second championship game at Regis University — epitomized the second half of this season.
That’s when the Mavs adopted a “So what? WIN (What’s Important Now)” attitude.
“Even here, we’re down (6-3), so what? Win,” coach Kris Mort said. “What’s important now?”
Sunday, the Mavs figured out what was important.
With one out in the seventh, Dani Vallie provided the spark, stretching a single into a double on a ball hit to center.
“I was just trying to push it,” Vallie said. “If I was safe, I was safe. I just knew I needed to get to the next base as soon as possible. I was already halfway and I think I heard Coach Z
(Andy Zanski) say ‘go, go’ and I was like, OK. I know I hesitated, but I got there.”
A couple of pitches later, CSU-Pueblo pitcher Amber Higby threw a pitch in the dirt that popped slightly away from catcher Bonita Nuanez. Vallie took off and slid into third just ahead of the tag, and the Mavs’ dugout was going crazy.
“When she did that we were like, ‘We’re coming back, we’re gonna win this thing right now,’ ’’ Duffy said. “Every person played their little part and it was a good team win. It was so amazing.”
Jamie Prather doubled to left and took third on Gabi Parra’s fly ball to right. As Jordan walked to the plate, Mort told her to expect to be walked. Jordan crowded the plate, hoping to get something to hit, but Amber Higby threw three balls well off the plate.
Jordan fouled one off on the outside corner, but the fifth pitch was outside, bringing Lauren Cross to the plate.
The sophomore third baseman delivered a game-tying, two-run double to left-center, with pinch runner Windi Serrano scoring from first.
“I knew they were going to pitch around (Jordan) and thought, ‘dang it, it’s going to come down to me, isn’t it?’ ’’ Cross said. “First and third, two outs, oh, my gosh. I guess I do better under pressure.
“It was fun to be clutch. It’s exciting.”
Duffy followed with her 10th home run of the season to give Mesa State an 8-6 lead, and Meagan Hennessy hit reliever Kelsey Swanberg’s first pitch over the center-field fence. It was Hennessy’s third home run of the season and the senior catcher couldn’t stop smiling after the game.
“The best part was not giving up,” Hennessy said. “We were down but we said, ‘We’re not done yet.’ Nobody started talking about Game 2. It wasn’t even in the picture. I couldn’t ask for anything better my senior year.”
Katie Mitchell walked and scored on Kris Silva’s double to right-center to give the Mavs an insurmountable lead and extend their season at least one more week.
“It’s all about having fun,” Hennessy said. “We’re having a blast. Coach keeps asking, ‘Is this fun yet?’ ’’