Softball showdowns loom Tuesday

Staff photo by Eric Lusk

MINGUS Union's Nicole Zettler got the best of Flagstaff in the first meeting as the Marauders won 3-2.

Mingus Union will visit Flagstaff in a duel for the 4A Grand Canyon regular-season title, while Camp Verde will entertain Higley for first place in the 3A West Region.

Both games start at 4 p.m. It's too bad they can't be played back-to-back at the same park (for fans and sportswriters alike) — it would make for a fabulous fast-pitch twin bill.

Both Verde Valley teams won one-run games the first time around. Mingus bunted Flagstaff to death for a 3-2 triumph at home. Camp Verde rallied from a 3-0 deficit to steal a 4-3 decision on the road.

Expect the rematches to be just as tight and intense.

The Mingus-Flag contest — both teams lead the GCR with 7-1 records — will pit two of the top pitchers in Northern Arizona. Marauder ace Nicole Zettler, a junior, has been a solo act on the mound since fellow pitcher Lindy Wilburn left the team a few weeks ago.

Zettler has responded to the added responsibilities with six straight wins, including her first victory against Flag on April 15.

Flagstaff is led by Rhiannon Baca, last year's league MVP who threw a no-hitter against Chinle on Tuesday. The Marauders frustrated Baca in the first meeting however, putting numerous tappers into play and forcing defensive mistakes. It's likely Flagstaff will be more prepared for the small-ball approach this time around.

Zettler knows about no-hitters as well. She threw one last year against the Eagles at home, but Mingus lost the home game 1-0 due to defensive mistakes.

Camp Verde, which is tied with Higley in the West standings with a 10-2, also brings a zinger to the hill, junior left-hander Penny Barnes. She suffered a rare loss on Tuesday at Parker and again Friday at Fountain Hills, but has been a steady force overall during the region campaign.

Barnes is usually good for 6-12 Ks a game. She had 11 in the first meeting with Higley in early April.

It will be interesting to see how both teams respond after recent losses. The Cowboys had been undefeated in the region until this week's defeats at Parker and Fountain.

Higley lost to sixth-place Sedona 9-8 on Tuesday, squandering a five-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Scorpions stroked a single and three consecutive doubles to start that frame, and Knights' infielders misplayed two or three short choppers after that.

Both games this Tuesday obviously have state playoff implications as well as an impact on the region race. Camp Verde and Higley have already locked 3A playoff berths and are fighting for seeding.

Mingus and Flag are both playing for a GCR title because it carries with it the only guaranteed berth into the 4A playoffs. The league's second post-season bid must be earned in the region tournament.

DID YOU KNOW? Chinle, which plays in Mingus Union's baseball region, has lost 88 consecutive Grand Canyon games dating back to 1995, according to The Arizona Daily Sun. The Wildcats were no-hit in a 17-0 loss to Page on Thursday.

PITCHING POWER: Thursday was a day for pitching in the Grand Canyon Region.

As mentioned above, Flagstaff's Rhiannon Baca got a no-hitter in softball. She nearly had a perfect game but walked one Chinle batter. Page's Troy Butler threw a no-no against Chinle in baseball (tough day for Wildcat diamond teams).

Mingus Union's Andrew Coffey was one bloop single away from getting his first no-hitter. He struck out 11 with three walks in a 13-0 baseball victory over Coconino.

ALMOST TIME FOR FOOTBALL: And I'm not talking about this weekend's NFL draft. High school teams are allowed a brief window of time to run limited spring drills (no pads or helmets) following the end of prep track and baseball seasons.

That will be in mid-May this year.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about grid teams at Mingus Union, Camp Verde and Sedona. All three made the playoffs a year ago, and all three look to have the personnel returning to make another post-season run in the fall.

Camp Verde upgraded its football schedule considerably, according to coach Luke Steege. The Cowboys have dropped 2A Williams and Mayer and have added 3A stalwarts Queen Creek and Coolidge.

Steege's crew also will play region rival Wickenburg at the end of the season rather than in week three. The Wranglers have always been a handful for the Cowboys in that week three slot, mainly because of the steep increase in competition level after playing two 2A opponents to start the year.

Look for Mingus, Camp Verde and Sedona gridders to stay busy this summer with passing leagues and weight-lifting contests. Last spring, I wandered down to the Marauder football field during spring drills only to find linemen wannabes with ropes tied around their waists pulling a coach's SUV around the track.

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