The top eight seeds get a breather shifting the spotlight to the 9th through 24th seeds on Saturday morning (May 3) in the first-round of the Division I state softball tournament.
Getting to sit back and enjoy Saturday are top-seed Gilbert, #2 Red Mountain, # 3 Sandra Day O'Connor, #4 Mountain Ridge, #5 Hamilton, #6 Basha, #7 Chaparral and #8 Horizon.
Here's a look at the matchups, all starting at 10 a.m., that will pare the field to 16 come Tuesday. Last year lower-seeded team won two of eight first-round matches. In the second round, three lower-seeded teams knocked off top-eight opponents to qualify for the double-elimination finish with the eight remainging teams.
No. 19 Corona del Sol (12-17) at No. 14 Perry (16-13): Last year the teams met in the 16-17 game. It was a humdinger going 12 innings and lasting better than three hours with Perry prevailing 2-1. Corona fireballer McKenna isenberg fanned 24 and took the loss to Perry's Jillian Leslie, who struck out 11. The teams met a month ago in section play with Perry winning, 7-2. Lindsey Heffron and Brittany Hopper combined for six RBI for Perry and the Lady Pumas Allysa Barlow decisioned Corona's Makenzie Bates. Don't expect a pitcher's duel in this one. Perry is giving up seven runs a game; Corona allowing six. Winner plays #3 Sandra Day O'Connor.
No 22 Skyline (19-10) at No. 11 Millennium (19-5-1): Neither school qualified for state last year. The last time Skyline played at state was in 2011 under current varsity assistant Jim Faul. Millennium, which won the Section 4 championship, is led by catcher Angelique Elemen and pitcher DeNae Chatman. Skyline will be out to snap a five-game losing streak, having lost to Horizon, Chaparral, Desert Mountain, Highland and Mesa Mountain View during its current skid. All those opponents qualified for the tournament. Winner plays at #6 Basha.
No. 23 Westview (21-9) at No. 10 Desert Ridge (19-8-1): Westview did not qualify for state last year while Desert Ridge was one of the lower-seeded teams to qualify for the Elite 8 a year ago. Desert Ridge is in any game with Bailey Klitzke in the circle, particularly if the defense is strong. Westview had the worst strength of schedule among this year's field postings an 0-3 record against state-tournament qualifers. All three losses were narrow ones to Skyline, Perry and Millennium. Winner plays at #7 Chaparral.
No. 18 Willow Canyon (18-10) at No. 15 Pinnacle (17-14): Pinnacle is back at state after missing last year. The Lady Pioneers are seasoned -- their schedule included 14 teams that qualified for state. Pinnacle was 5-12 in those games. The Lady Pioneers have power and production in Kourtney Pock and Jessica Hallett. Willow Canyon had the second-worst strength of schedule, but here's the rub. Willow Canyon defeated Pinnacle 5-2 two weeks ago behind senior pitcher Sabrina Jimenez. Willow Canyon's offense is led by Paulina Romero, Marissa Morales and Kaileigh Holland. Willow Canyon played six games against tourney qualifiers. It's record in those was 3-3. Winner plays at #2 Red Mountain.
No. 17 Desert Vista (11-13) at No. 16 Highland (16-14): Like Corona-Perry, this is a Section 2 rematch. Section 2 had a strong season with nine of its 10 teams qualifying for state and the 10th (Chandler) just missing at No. 25. Desert Vista pummeled Highland when the teams met early last month, 16-4. Highland's pitching and defense weren't sharp (15 hits allowed, four errors) and the offense collected only five hits. Desert Vista's Brooke Hughes was the winning pitcher and added three hits and four RBI. Highland pitcher Faith Napodano will seek a better result on Saturday. Winner plays at # 1 Gilbert.
No. 24 Desert Mountain (15-16) at No. 9 Xavier Prep (18-7-1): Xavier has been one of the hottest teams of late, but its loss in the regular-season finale to Horizon allowed Horizon to grab the No. 8 spot and a bye and relegated the Gators to playing in this round. Xavier has won nine of its last 11 games. The teams met in late March with Xavier hanging on for a 3-2 victory. Desert Mountain has struggled against elite teams and pitchers. Freshman Masie Mortimer (Desert Mountain) and freshman Lilly Giller (Xavier) locked up in the prior meeting. Winner plays at #8 Horizon.
No. 21 North Canyon (9-12) at No. 12 Mountain Pointe (15-15): These teams ended state-tournament droughts by qualifying this year. North Canyon last played at state in 2009; Mountain Pointe, under new coach Jim Bradford, is making its first appearance since 2010. Mountain Pointe toiled in Section 2 and managed to hold its own finishing fifth out of 10 teams with wins over top-seed Gilbert, Basha and rival Desert Vista. North Canyon had a tough time playing its top Section 1 foes, getting battered by SDO, Mountain Ridge, Boulder Creek and Pinnacle. North Canyon is led by pitcher Bianca Boling, who is hitting .566 with eight homers and 21 RBI. Mountain Pointe gets offense and pitching from Kristen McCann and power to spare from Hannah Hoban (9 homers and 44 RBI). Winner plays at #5 Hamilton.
No. 20 Mesa Mountain View (11-18) at No. 13 Boulder Creek (18-8): Mountain View reached the semifinals last year, but had to work much harder this year just to qualify. The Lady Toros regrouped after struggling in Desert Mountain's tournament the third week of March to nab one of the final spots. Mountain View has faced some of the top teams -- Red Mountain, Chaparral, SDO, Gilbert, Desert Ridge, Horizon and Xavier -- to name a few. Mountain View's strength of schedule was the key to it qualifying. Boulder Creek boasts the some of the same having battled with staunch opponents like Mountain Ridge, SDO and Horizon. Winner plays at No. 4 Mountain Ridge.