It’s Red Mountain and Mountain View in a Division I state tournament semifinal on Wednesday night, which means there’s not much left to say other than “Let’s play.”
Another Battle of Brown Road. Six miles separate the two schools. Nearly every kid from the respective schools either knows, is close friends, plays with, or plays against one another. Neither Red Mountain coach Rich Hamilton nor Mountain View coach Joe Goodman is interested in “bulletin board” material, nor is it necessary at this juncture.
“You don’t need motivation for this game,” said Hamilton, whose Lions are three-time defending state champions trying to reach the big-school title game for an unprecedented (in Arizona softball history) fifth consecutive year.
While everyone else might be trying to be the ones who oust the “dynasty” in Northeast Mesa, it’ll have to be done twice before the championship game, and the way Red Mountain has played lately, it’ll be a tough task.
Defense and too many runners left on base led to consecutive losses against Gilbert and Desert Ridge to begin April. But the Lions have won 13 consecutive games since, including an 8-0 win over Mountain View in mid-April to help keep Red Mountain as a top-8 seed in the tournament (the Lions’ rise also helped Mountain View keep a top-8 spot as well).
Bre Macha has been dominant in the circle for the Lions the past three weeks, and an already deep Lions’ lineup has shown better patience at the plate. Red Mountain repeatedly went to the opposite field during the latter stages of Monday’s quarterfinals win.
“This playoffs is the best we’ve played all year, without a doubt,” Hamilton said. “We’ve looked good at times but consistently all three facets this is the most consistent. I think we’re playing better than we had at any point in the season.”
Bad news for many, but there’s good news for Mountain View, which has an ace in Val Kaff coming off an impressive performance in a shutout of No. 1-seed Glendale Mountain Ridge on Monday night.
Kaff, headed to Michigan State this fall, leads the state in strikeouts (411 according to MaxPreps.com), and while Mountain Ridge put the ball in play more often to keep those strikeouts down, the Toros defense made all the plays.
So, too, did the offense, led by Sidney Ryan’s two-run home run to center field.
“We’re excited, and not in a cocky way,” Goodman said after the win. “We want to be the best and we’ll have to beat the best. We’re ready.”
Two years ago, these two met in the semifinals. Back then, Red Mountain suffered an early loss in the double-elimination tournament, which meant the Lions had to beat Mountain View twice in the same night to advance. They did, a Game 1 slugfest followed by a crazy late-inning comeback in Game 2. The Lions eventually won the championship in a thriller against Basha.
Both rosters are completely different now, except that each again knows almost everything about the other.
“I know they’re good. I know we’re good,” Goodman said. “It’ll come down to who makes the plays.”
“How cool thing to play in semifinals of championship bracket against your rival?” Hamilton said. “Motivation isn’t a problem for anyone. Now you have to go out and play.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.