File photo by Mark JonesLindsey Steverson didn't even bother to use her mitt to cover her smile for the last three innings.
Breana Macha, shown in action last season, helped Red Mountain to yet another state softball title.
"I can't help it. I smile all of the time," Steverson said. "It's totally me. I just can't hide it."
It's no wonder.
The sophomore shortstop is fully entrenched in one of the greatest stretches in Arizona high school team sports history. Everyone involved in the Red Mountain (Mesa) program has essentially worn a perma-smile the last five seasons.
Every player on the field is involved on every play in softball. Each pitch, each swing of the bat and every game comes down to nine players being in sync.
And possibly no one in the history of Arizona prep team sports has been able to match what the No. 2 Mountain Lions (32-6-1) have done for five straight seasons.
"How did we do that?" Red Mountain coach Rich Hamilton said. "I don't know. I probably shouldn't tell you this… All year long about, ‘What am I going to say if it is over?' But it's not over yet. I guess I don't have to worry about that for another year."
It starts with a great battery in pitcher Breanna Macha and catcher Jordan Beck, who started the last four title games, and a little bit of fear of being the one to have it end.
"What we talked about all year was that internal motivation to win," Hamilton said. "They didn't want to be the one who didn't win. They knew they had done it before. They didn't want to be the one. That internal motivation just kept pushing and pushing to get us through."
The offense had a little something to do with it as the Mountain Lions had a two-run second, a three-run fourth and three-run sixth after seeing Mountain Ridge's Giselle Juarez for a third time this year.
Mckenzy Gutierrez double.
"It woke us up a little bit and we knocked the wall down a little bit," Hamilton said. "That was kind of nice."
The lopsided loss doesn't take way from what No. 4 Mountain Ridge (Glendale) (28-7-1) was able to accomplish this season.
"We played great defense and had no errors," Mountain Ridge coach Michelle Markham said. "We missed too many times at 0-2. We couldn't get it back under control. We'd gotten so much better at it throughout the year, and today we just struggled."
Mountain Ridge, which made it through the winner's bracket unscathed before losing in the title game, returns all but one player next season.
"We have a strong group coming back," Markham said. "This whole ride has been so much fun and opened their eyes. They had a blast. They are going to carry that through into next season and will be even more fired up."
Red Mountain, which has made the title game six years in a row, came through the loser's bracket and trailed 1-0 with four outs to go in the consolation bracket against Millennium before erupting for an 11-run sixth inning to kickstart another title run, one that goes unmatched in Arizona history.
"I feel like crying," Macha, who is headed to Arizona State, said. "I feel like jumping up and down. It really is unexplainable. I'm at a loss for words."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at email@example.com or 480-272-2449.