There was plenty riding on the Desert West region finale between Centennial and Sunrise Mountain softball Wednesday.
The region title was up for grabs, with the winner likely earning the No. 1 seed, and just the fact that it was the Mustangs and Coyotes - one of 5A-II's biggest softball rivalries.
However, one point missed by many except the coaches was that Wednesday's battle would be the last regular season match up between the two schools.
In the Arizona Interscholastic Association's recent realignment, Sunrise Mountain was moved from 5A-II to 4A-I beginning next year while Centennial remained in the same division.
With all those factors playing into the game - it was senior day, too - Sunrise Mountain (22-5-1, 11-1 in region) took home its second-straight Desert West title with a 4-0 win against Centennial (25-6, 11-1) in front of a large playoff-ready crowd.
In the case of a tie in the region standings, the tiebreaker is power points and Sunrise Mountain edged Centennial, 128.6111-123.8889 thanks to Wednesday's win.
"(Centennial) is a good team and we'll miss them as our rival," said Mustangs coach Nick Rizer. "I'd play them and Ironwood any day, because they are rivals and the girls get up for those games."
Coyotes coach Bartt Underwood agreed.
"We'll miss this game. It's a big rivalry, and our girls want to beat them and they want to beat us."
The Mustangs' senior pitcher Jamie LaBovick had trouble locating the zone against Centennial when the two schools met April 15, a 3-0 Centennial win. That wasn't the case Thursday as she struck out two in the first and finished with eight in the game. She also allowed just one single, to Jamie Ladd, and no Coyote runner reached second base. LaBovick also walked two while earning her 12th win of the season.
Sunrise Mountain's hitters were more patient Wednesday than they were two weeks ago.
Senior Brigette DelPonte led off the Mustang first inning with a bunt single between the pitcher and first basemen and junior Taylor Rauscher followed with a walk.
"I knew if she pitched me outside I could lay one down, especially with (first baseman Jamie) Ladd playing back," DelPonte said. "All I had to do was bunt it perfectly."
Coyote pitcher Gabby Luciani nearly escaped the jam as she got the next two outs. However, junior Destinee Deherrera drew a two-out walk to load the bases and sophomore Karissa Haleman battled back from an 0-and-2 count to drive a two-run single up the middle.
"The girls did a nice job at the plate, working Gabby and getting quality at bats, especially in that opening inning," Rizer said. "What I really liked was the way we battled in 0-and-2 counts. That's how you win ballgames by battling back in those types of counts and making the opposing pitcher work."
Despite giving up a pair of DelPonte doubles that banged off the left field wall and singles to Deherrera, sophomore Dani Bonnett and Haleman's fifth-inning single, Luciani regained her composure and kept the Mustangs off the board.
Fatigue may have set in during the sixth for Luciani, who had thrown 92 pitches through five innings. She walked both senior Brandi Manning and DelPonte to open the sixth, and both would score on an error and a LaBovick single.
"I know Gabby, and if I went out there she'd tell me she wasn't tired," Underwood said. "Plus, if we get them in the state title game it would be a month since they last saw Mo, so why should I let them see her now? Plus, Paige Tonz called a great game. She's been calling the games all season and has done a great job."
While both sides agreed this was an important game, neither team lost focus on what was really at stake - a deep run at state and a shot at a state title.
"This was a pretty important win, but not as important as keeping our winning streak going," DelPonte said. "We want to keep that momentum going heading into state."
This was an important game to the Mustang shortstop on a personnal level, too, as she said she had been struggling at the plate for some time.
"I've been in a pretty big slump so today it was nice to jump out and hit like my normal self," DelPonte said, who went 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored.
"Anytime you play Sunrise (Mountain) you don't want to lose," Underwood said. "But the goal isn't to just beat Sunrise Mountain, it's to reach the state tournament and win the title. Our goal is still out there as long as all 14 girls play together."
The Mustangs' realized their goal last season in winning the 5A-II state title, and that goal didn't change this year. DelPonte said there was talk about repeating as state champs at the beginning of the year, but the team hasn't talked about it much since. Rizer said that's just the way his players are.
"The nice thing about this team is that they do a good job of just going game to game," Rizer said. "Even last year when we made our run to the title there wasn't a lot of talk about winning it all. But I know the girls have been itching to get to state tournament time."