A trio of Red Mountain seniors know nothing about losing a state championship game. They'd like to keep it that way Monday (May 19) and in the process help the Lady Lions secure a place in state softball history with a never-before-accomplished, fifth consecutive title.
Pitcher Bre Macha, catcher Jordan Beck and infielder-pitcher-DP Marian Ruf are intent on seeing that play out against the tournament's lone unbeaten team -- Mountain Ridge. Mountain Ridge is playing in its first-ever softball title game. The contest is set for 7:45 p.m. at ASU's Farrington Softball Stadium.
Macha, Beck and Ruf have been on teams that have gone through the tournament unscathed. They've played on one that had to come through the loser's bracket to prevail. This year the latter is true again. Hayden (1986-89), Chaparral (1995-98), Seton twice (1996-99) and (2002-05) and Joseph City (2000-03) are the other schools with four titles in succession.
"No matter how we've won, it's nerve-racking," Beck, who has caught Macha for a decade and will attend Southern Mississippi this fall, said. "When the situation is every game could be your last it's hard. I don't think we believe we're invincible, but we are confident we can win no matter the situation."
That''s happened twice this year for Red Mountain as it's dvanced through the loser's bracket -- against Millennium and most recently Chaparral. Millennium had Red Mountain on the ropes late, leading 1-0 with two outs and two on in the bottom of the sixth. A pop-up to short center field tipped off the glove of Millennium's second baseman and two runs scored. The Lady Lions followed with nine more runs in the inning to finish it in six, 11-1. Had that pop up been caught, perhaps Red Mountain wouldn't be playing in the title game and their streak of titles over.
Ruf, headed for Mount St. Mary's University in the fall, missed a good chunk of time in April with a foot injury. She isn't sure her Lady Lions wouldn't have won against Millennium regardless.
"Even if the ball had been caught, I think we'd have had the drive to get it done and win," Ruf said. "We have a sense of confidence. It's been a tough road to get here. We've seen it done before so we know it's possible."
Red Mountain advanced to the title game by avenging its only tournament loss to Chaparral. Red Mountain trailed 2-0 in the second, but won, 3-2, thanks to a hit batter and bases-loaded walk in the fourth inning with two outs. Whatever it takes.
"We've won games a lot of different ways in different years in this streak," Red Mountain coach Rich Hamilton said. "The girls have stayed focused, and mentally tough. They get nervous. Everybody does. If you're not nervous, you're dead."
Perhaps as instrumental in the four-year success as anyone is Macha, who has been the winning pitcher in each of the three previous title games and seeks a fourth against Mountain Ridge. Macha has had much to contend with this spring. She inspired her teammates and the softball community pitching just hours after her mother passed away from cancer last month.
"I don't know if I know a stronger person than Bre," Ruf said. "I've known her since we were in Little League. We haven't always seen eye to eye, and had our differences from time to time. Now we're really close. We've grown up."
Macha, who heads to ASU in the fall, had an eye on Red Mountain as an 8th-grader. She watched the 2010 team start the state-title streak beating St. Mary's and ace Dallas Escobedo. Macha's been the winning pitcher in the last three -- two vs. Basha and last year against Chaparral.
Macha formulated a plan then before she threw her first pitch for Red Mountain. "I set a goal then I wanted to win all four state titles we'd get a chance to," Macha said. "My dream might come true."
Macha would have preferred going through the tournament unbeaten, but the early loss further engaged her competitive nature.
"I actually haven't minded it," Macha said. "It's meant more games for us as a team and as seniors."
NOTES: No 2 Red Mountain brings a 29-6-1 record to the title game; No. 4 Mountain Ridge is 28-6-1. Mountain Ridge and Red Mountain played twice this season with Mountain Ridge winning 6-0 in early March and the teams playing to a 7-7 tie in the Desert Mountain Invitational a couple weeks later. Red Mountain, however, has been somewhat of a menace to Mountain Ridge over the last decade in the state tournament. Red Mountain eliminated Mountain Ridge from the tournament in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011 and defeated but didn't eliminate Mountain Ridge in 2012. Mountain Ridge has a win over Red Mountain in the tournament in that span (2006).
Beck has teamed up with Macha and caught her since they were grade-schoolers.
The past two years Red Mountain's prevailed without a loss in the double-elimination format that began in 2005. As freshmen, however, the Lady Lions lost in the second round and had to win five games in a row to come away champs.
When Red Mountain won its first state softball title in 2006 it began the MO called simply enought the "Red Mountain Way".
Red Mountain claimed the title that year by losing in the second round and then reeling off six consecutive victories to walk away with the first-place trophy.