Darlene Valles has hit a lot of hard balls, especially in practice. Friday night wasn’t practice time, it was the 5A Division I state softball championship, but Valles treated it like soft-toss drills.
The comeback had already begun for the Chandler Basha softball team, but it was completed by Valles, a soft-spoken sophomore who, for one at-bat, swung a big stick.
With the bases loaded in the sixth inning, Valles took the first pitch she saw from Marina Carroll and deposited it over the left field fence for a grand slam, and Basha’s first softball state championship followed in a 9-5 victory against Tempe Corona del Sol at Rose Mofford Sports Complex.
The ball remains missing, as no one on the Bears’ side could claim knowledge of its whereabouts.
“I want that ball,” Valles said.
For now, the Bears have to settle for the game’s final out, after which the ball was tucked away in coach Scott Hoffmeyer’s shorts pocket. They’ll also settle for being the first 5A school from Chandler to appear in — let alone win — a softball state championship.
The home run snapped a 5-5 tie, and brought the Bears (32-4) all the way back from what was once a 5-2 deficit against the hottest hitting team in this tournament.
The Bears loaded the bases in that fateful sixth, and, with two outs, Valles sent the first fastball up, up and away.
“I knew I was due and I had to do something,” she said. “I was thinking base hit.”
Everything came up Corona early. DesRae Gonzalez hit a two-run single and sophomore Mary Spiel crushed a three-run home run over the center-field wall to give the Aztecs (28-8) a 5-2 lead after two innings.
But Bears ace Samantha Parlich and her defense shut down Corona’s bats for most of the remaining five innings. Meanwhile, the Bears scratched together runs and took advantage of a couple missed plays by the Aztecs.
It was an odd sight to see, considering the Aztecs didn’t commit an error until March 26th, but Corona — which has finished in second place twice in the past three seasons — had little to regret.
“We did the best we can with what we have,” said Corona coach Jeep Ray, who will return every starter except standout catcher Ashley Hansen next season. “I wouldn’t trade these girls for the world.”
Hoffmeyer said the same thing afterward about his team. Turns out they were setting themselves up for some wheeling, dealing and winning.
The Bears were sent home in the semifinals last year, and with a motto of “Unfinished Business,” kept their composure in the season’s final game.
“We worked on those situations all year long,” Hoffmeyer said. “Those three runs (a 5-2 deficit early) weren’t worth quitting over.”
They didn’t, thanks to Valles’ one swing.
Hoffmeyer knew it was gone. So did Valles.
“She can smoke them,” Hoffmeyer said.
Practice made for perfect.