Just in case you thought softball had become all about offense, Bre Macha pitched as if she was offended.
Pitching continues to have its place in the East Valley, and proof came from the Red Mountain junior's complete-game, two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts in an 8-0 win against rival-Mountain View on Friday afternoon.
Yes, the Lions' offense played their part with a four-run sixth inning to allow for a proverbial exhale. And, yes, the defense which had suffered several lapses a week ago during consecutive losses rebounded flawlessly behind Macha, especially fielding Mountain View bunt attempts.
But after the team's ace escaped a bit of trouble in the first inning, Macha out-dueled Toros' ace Val Kaff as the Lions picked up what could be an important game when it comes to vying for a top-8 seed and first-round bye in the Division I state tournament.
"It was about the best she's been all year," Lions coach Rich Hamilton said of Macha.
Kaff, who unofficially leads the state in strikeouts, fanned 15 Lions' hitters on the other side, but the Toros struggled defensively, and, after Red Mountain pushed across an early running with some "small ball," got a couple loud hits in the pivotal sixth inning.
A solo home run to left-center by Marian Ruff gave Red Mountain (No. 8 in the power rankings as of Friday morning) a 2-0 lead in the fourth. Otherwise, both pitchers were afforded a generous strike zone, and used both sides of the plate to cruise through the middle innings.
But the first five Lions got hits to begin the sixth, as eight Lions batted in the inning. It began with an infield hit by TJ Beeson and a high pop fly which fell into right field for another single, and was highlighted by a scorching double to left-center by catcher Jordan Beck and a two-run single by Ashley Hill.
Two more runs scored in the seventh inning on a bunt hit, a walk and struggles defensively for the Toros.
Beeson had two hits and scored twice, while Ruff also scored twice. The top six Lions' hitters reached base a combined 12 times.
"We've gotten to (Kaff) more than most and I don't know why that is," Hamilton said. "...We talked about being patient and hit good pitches, and don't go out of the zone to hit pitches."
The Lions' win snapped Mountain View's 10-game winning streak dating back to the Desert Mountain tournament in late March. The previous meeting was a 3-1 decision, but the frustrated Toros (No. 5 entering Friday's action) knew the day's effort and multiple unearned runs allowed wasn't going to work against the three-time defending state champions, now or ever.
"Val pitched great, but it was a tough day for the defense behind her," Toros coach Joe Goodman said. "The whole team needs to be pulling in the same direction. "...We need to use this game to jump start a new winning streak to carry us to state."
For Mountain View, it's a bit steeper of an upcoming climb in keeping one of those top eight spots in Div. I, with Westwood on consecutive days to begin next week, followed by a good Horizon team to cap a three-games-in-three-days stretch.
A good Desert Mountain team, a solid Tucson Sunnyside squad and Skyline conclude the regular season schedule during the next two weeks.
Red Mountain's road, however, now appears a bit easier schedule-wise, which is what made Friday's win against a higher-ranked opponent more meaningful. The Lions have Mesa, Chandler, Highland and Dobson twice to conclude the season.
Highland and Chandler could offer the toughest of those matchups, but the opponents' rankings overall might not help the Lions much moving forward, win or lose.
Not many losses will be coming in there if Macha continues pitching like this.
"This is about the third game in a row where she's looked like she's had 'it,'" Hamilton said. "She is doing well lately and what a great time to start."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.