Lady Marauders capture region tourney championship
At the beginning of the season, Mingus Union softball coach Steve Wombacher talked a lot about rebuilding.
He questioned whether his young squad had enough firepower to continue its long tradition of playoff appearances and top two finishes in the region. After Sunrise Mountain beat his team 21-2 on March 1, Wombacher wondered aloud whether his team would even win a game before the league schedule began.
Those days probably feel like eons ago now.
Wombacher's troops learned a lot from their early-season lumps, engineered a second-place finish in the region regular season standings and put the icing on the cake this past weekend.
Mingus beat Coconino 2-1 on Friday and upset top-seeded Flagstaff 1-0 on Saturday to capture the Grand Canyon Region tournament championship. In the process, the Lady Marauders swiped the league's top seed for this week's state 4A playoffs away from the previously unbeaten Eagles.
The tradition continues.
"We followed a nine-inning performance (against Coconino) with a great seven inning defensive effort (against Flag)," Wombacher said.
One of the biggest growth curves the Marauders have followed this season has been on defense. Errors proved plentiful early in the schedule as players new to the varsity level adjusted to the increased competitiveness.
Against Flagstaff on Saturday, though, Mingus played error-free ball. They only committed one miscue against Coconino the day before.
Pitching has also been much improved of late. Senior Tamara French followed Renae Espeland's nine-inning win against Coconino with a shutout victory against Flag, which had won all 11 prior GCR games.
French gave up six hits and struck out four. She outdueled the region player of the year, freshman phenom Rhiannon Baca, who struck out 11 and only surrendered four hits.
Mingus got its only run in the second inning on a Nicole Zettler groundout that scored Brenna Winslow. Then, the defenses took over.
"Their big hits came with no one on base," Wombacher said. "We dodged bullets in the second, sixth and seventh innings. In the second inning, Flag had the bases loaded with one out. Tamara struck out the next two batters to get out of the jam."
In the seventh, Flagstaff put runners on first and third with one out. Baca stepped to the plate, but hit the ball right at Mingus second baseman Ashley Perea, who threw the runner out at home.
The Eagles' next batter hit a line shot at centerfielder Brenda Chamberlin, who made the catch for the final out.
"It was a surprise," Wombacher told the Arizona Daily Sun after the contest. "Today was the day. It was just Mingus' day."
Lindy Wilburn, also a freshman phenom, led Mingus in hitting against Flagstaff with a pair of singles. Rochelle Watkins belted a triple.
Watkins and Chamberlin recorded two hits each against Coconino on Friday. The Marauders won that game in the bottom of the ninth after a Marie Fredlake double, a Winslow bunt and an Espeland sacrifice fly.
"Renae pitched an outstanding game, going the distance of nine innings," Wombacher said. "Ashley Perea and Lindy Wilburn recorded some run-stoppers by making great defensive plays."
The Lady Marauders will host a state playoff game today (Wednesday) at 4 p.m. against either Marana Mountain View or Arcadia. Mingus also relegated Flagstaff to the second seed from the region, forcing them to drive to Tucson for a game against Catalina Foothills.
Wednesday's winners will play at Papago Sports Complex in Phoenix on Friday. The 4A championship game is Saturday at 7 p.m., also at Papago.