What are Red Mountain's chances of reeling off a fifth consecutive big-school softball championship? About what one would expect from a team that returned virtually all its top players from last year. The Lady Lions outlook is excellent.
Still, seven other schools receiving first-round byes won't let Red Mountain cruise to the crown. Nor will eight teams that survived first-round tests -- Desert Vista, Xavier, North Canyon, Boulder Creek, Corona del Sol, Millennium, Desert Ridge and Pinnacle.
Here's a look at the top eight seeds and their second-round opponents. The winners in the second round (games to be played on Tuesday May 6) advance to the final eight and the double-elimination portion of the tournament that runs Thursday May 8 through Monday May 19. Games on May 8, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 16 are at Rose Mofford Complex in Phoenix with the title game on May 19 at ASU's Farrington Stadium.
NO. 1 GILBERT (24-6): Gilbert earned the top seed going 17-1 in power-ranking games, winning its last seven games in a row and posting a 12-3 record overall against the other opponents left in the tournament. Pitcher Lynsey Duncan brings 19-4 record to the tournament with a 2.05 earner-run average. Offensively Gilbert is led by seniors Dani Nelson and Taylor McCord. Nelson started slowly, but her key numbers are off the charts -- .431 average, 14 home runs and 57 RBI. McCord batted .431 with four homers and 31 RBI. The Lady Tigers were the only team to defeat Red Mountain in the final six weeks of the season. Second-round opponent -- No. 17 Desert Vista. Desert Vista advanced beating Highland, 4-1. Desert Vista eliminated Gilbert last year in a second-round upset.
NO. 2 RED MOUNTAIN (24-5-1): Red Mountain has won 13 of its last 14 games -- all taking place after the grueling Desert Mountain Invitational the third week of March. It is 9-3-1 against teams left in the tournament. The Lady Lions have navigated spells without three top players -- first baseman Ashley Hill, infielder Marian Ruf and catcher Jordan Beck due to injury. All are back. Red Mountain also has the winning pitcher in each of the last three state tournament title games -- senior Bre Macha. Macha is pitching as well as ever and perhaps better as she seeks to go out with four titles on her resume (along with teammates Beck and Ruf). Macha sports a 16-4 record, a 0.95 ERA and has fanned 212 batters in 140 innings. Red Mountain's defense has been sharper the last half of the season making them formidable in all phases. Leadoff hitter Alyssa Fernandez and No. 2 hitter Alex Wiley lead the team in RBI. Wiley has 36 and Fernandez 24. Fernandez leads the team with 6 HR. Second-round opponent -- No. 15 Pinnacle. Pinnacle advanced defeating Willow Canyon, 7-3.
NO. 3 SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR (26-4): Sandra Day O'Connor is scorching hot. The Lady Eagles enter state with a 14-game winning streak. Coach Melissa Hobson doesn't have a favorite pitcher. Hobson will use any of three -- senior Haley Wall, sophomore Brooke Brown or freshman Emma Vesely. Each logged between 50 and 60 innings during the season. SDO was solid facing teams left in the tournament -- a 6-1 record. The team batting average hovers near the .400 mark so the offense appears capable. The team's power comes from freshman Madison Westmoreland (6 HR), sophomore Stevie McLemore (5 HR) and junior Jamilia Cosay (5 HR). Second-round opponent -- No. 19 Corona del Sol. Corona del Sol advanced defeating Perry, 10-1.
NO. 4 MOUNTAIN RIDGE (24-6-1): Mountain Ridge wasn't particularly hot down the stretch -- 3-3 in its final six games. It is capable of bringing home a title. The Lady Lions have a 6-6-1 record against the remaining tournament field. They can hit. They've scored scored 287 runs -- a bit more than nine per game. Top pitchers have been able to stifle Mountain Ridge, which has lossed recently to Gilbert and Chaparra and beat Red Mountain early in March. Sophomore pitcher Giselle Juarez has been a workhorse and relies on great movement with her pitches. Senior catcher Corrin Green, junior Alyssa DiCarlo and junior infielder Bailey Gaffin lead the prolific offense. Second-round opponent -- No. 13 Boulder Creek. Boulder Creek advanced beating Mesa Mountain View, 9-7.
NO. 5 HAMILTON (22-9): Hamilton didn't qualify for state last year, just missing at No. 25. The Lady Huskies made that narrow miss their mantra this year and it's paid off with a high seed. An improved defense, solid pitching from Cheyenne Noli (15-7, 2.05 ERA) and Sam Martinez (7-2) and a speedy lineup led by leadoff hitter Bella Loomis, a freshman already verbally committed to ASU. Hamilton is 7-5 against the tournament field and has leadership in run-production from senior Christine Olivas (4 HR and 30 RBI. Second-round opponent -- No. 21 North Canyon. North Canyon advanced defeating Mountain Pointe, 7-4.
NO. 6 BASHA (21-7): Basha's hitting is its strength with a trio of .400 hitters and five players with between 20 and 29 RBI -- Nicole Matta, Brittany Medina, Hailee Siroky and Brielle Breland and Brooke Breland. The quintet has belted a combined 21 homers led by Matta's six. Coach Scott Hoffmeyer has employed as many as six pitchers. Basha is 7-4 against the tournament field. It has allowed 134 runs, the most by far of any of the top 8 seeds. Basha has found the going tough against teams with top pitchers, falling to Red Mountain, Gilbert, Horizon and Hamilton. Basha scored a total of 12 runs in those four losses. Second-round opponent -- No. 11 Millennium. Millennium advanced beating Skyline, 14-4. Basha defeated Millennium a couple weeks ago, 5-4.
NO. 7 CHAPARRAL (23-7): Chaparral was the No. 15 seed last year, but its seed doesn't matter much if ace Dallas McBride is on and the defense behind her is solid. The Lady Firebirds made it to the title game last year and its only losses in the tourney were to Red Mountain. McBride got off to a slow start with an injury, but has turned in another stellar year pitching with a 1.53 ERA. At the plate she's a terror as well, hitting .410 with nine homers and 41 RBI. Chaparral is 7-5 against teams left in the tournament field. Most of those losses were early when McBride was hobbled. Second-round opponent -- No. 10 Desert Ridge. Desert Ridge advanced beating Westview, 14-0.
NO. 8 HORIZON (24-7): Horizon made a mad dash at the finish to nab the final bye, beating Xavier in its season finale to edge out the Gators for the first-round open date. Horizon enters state with a nine-game winning streak. It's fate rests on the arm of junior T Statman. Statman is 20-7 with a 1.11 ERA. Her variety of pitches and excellent control keep hitters honest and often hitless. Statman has struck out 285 batters in 189 innings. Horizon has scored the fewest runs of any of the eight top seeds, but has given up the least (44). Statman usually helps herself at the plate. She sports a .536 average with three homers and 25 RBI. Horizon is 8-5 against teams left in the tournament field. Second-round opponent -- No. 9 Xavier. Xavier advanced beating Desert Mountain, 6-5. Horizon edged Xavier last week, 5-4.