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'Hawk softball ends year with quarterfinal berth


Southridge stuns two top seeds, reaches 6A quarterfinals

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Southridge sophomore starting pitcher Kalee Mabray celebrates the Skyhawks come-from-behind win over Central Catholic in the first round of the 6A playoffs.

Two weeks ago, if someone told Wilbur Charters his team would go on a postseason spree and reach the 6A quarterfinals, the Southridge softball coach would've scoffed and skeptically shook his head.

The Skyhawks limped to the finish line of Metro play, losing seven of their final eight games — after beginning the year 7-2 — giving their veteran head coach little to look forward to going into the 6A “play-in” game against North Salem. At best — Charters thought — this young team could beat the Vikings to qualify for the round of 32 and gain some much-needed seasoning for future seasons.

Yet, as Southridge began finding its feet in the postseason, something clicked. The errors that beleaguered this youthful bunch disappeared. The bats began cracking. Southridge's pitching, solid all season, went to another level.

The 23-ranked Skyhawks — a below .500 team going into the second season — started scorching in all phases of the game and rattled off upset wins over heavily favored West Salem and Central Catholic to advance to the quarters against South Salem. The unpredicted splurge came to an end versus the Saxons on Friday, 5-0, but Southridge's storybook postseason, was certainly one to commemorate.

“They turned it up in the postseason and played like I thought they could play,” said Charters. “They turned a kind of so-so season into a pretty good postseason. They knew any game could be their last. They had to be focused in order to move on, and they did. It's a loser, out situation, so they stepped up and played some pretty good ball.”

Charters said Southridge developed an “us against the state” mentality toward the end of the season, though the head coach noted the team “didn't have that at all” during Metro play. When the chips were down, however, and the sense of desperation seeped in, the Skyhawks dug in and dug out of late-game deficits against the Vikings, Titans and Rams to extend their season.

In fact, Southridge was down to its last strike in the first round versus the Vikings. With two strikes and two outs on the board, senior outfielder Madison Weaver hit a playable pop-up near the West Salem dugout that seemed destined to stop Southridge's season. But, the Vikings' third baseman dropped the can of corn. On the next pitch, Weaver hit a double to left that scored the tying run. Then, fellow senior Thalia Rojas followed with a bunt right down the third base line to plate Weaver from second base for the go-ahead run, 3-2.

Southridge's deficits against West Salem and Central Catholic were manageable, which gave the Skyhawks enough time to string a couple of hits together, stock runners on base and execute to get the runs home.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Southridge sophomore starting pitcher Kalee Mabray is one of several underclassmen returning for the Skyhawks next season.

“It was really nice,” said Charters. “In league, they just kind of faltered and couldn't get anything going. They couldn't seem to win a game, but they put it together in the playoffs and ended up playing pretty well. We knew we were walking into a buzz saw against South Salem, but we gave it a good shot.”

South Salem scored three unearned runs in the quarters, primarily because the Saxons utilized their speed to put pressure on the Skyhawks' defense and rush their throws around the diamond.

A team that only had four seniors including Erin Bonzer and Kylie Kushiyama, Southridge got a great feel for playoff softball and regained that early-season stride that had the Skyhawks as high as seventh in 6A. Freshman catcher Brooke Johnson was first-team, all-Metro in her rookie campaign, which let the bazooka-armed Bonzer — the Skyhawks' catcher last year — move to third base. Junior speedy Sophie Herman was a big base-stealing threat at shortstop, and the two-headed pitching duo of Kalee Mabray and Morgan Penn continued to show promise in the circle.

Charters also applauded the effort of junior Jenna Kelly. A solid hitter and defender at first base, Charters said Kelly was a player who “was easy to overlook, but was always there at crucial times and understood the game.”

The onus next season, Charters said, will be on improving its play during the regular season, so Southridge can clinch a higher playoff seed and not have to face the 6A's best until the later rounds.

“There's no reason they can't do this again,” said Charters. “It's important to keep that ranking up there so you can host a few playoff games. At No. 23, we were never going to get a home game.”