Cobras fall short in controversial softball championship game

Senior Carson Gambs swings the bat in the 4A softball championship game. (Photo by Eric Newman)

The scoreboard showed Salpointe Catholic softball’s 6-5 extra-innings win in the 2019 AIA Softball 4A State Championship game. The Lancers celebrated Hillenbrand Stadium at The University of Arizona and hoisted the trophy for the second time in as many years. But, their opponent, Cactus High, felt the game should not have ended.

With multiple runners on base in a 5-5 tie at the bottom of the eighth inning with one out, the Lancers hit a sacrifice fly. A throw home from right field was late, and the Cobras walked off the field disappointed in the loss.

“All of a sudden, we look up into the stands and we see all the parents pointing toward first base and yelling to grab the ball,” junior Cassandra Elliott said.

She took the ball and stood on first base. In the midst of the celebration, the Cobras said Salpointe’s runner on first base never tagged up after the catch. Though they had thrown the ball home initially, Cactus argued it was still a live ball, and that the late throw to first would have constituted the third out.

Because the appeal happened minutes after the final run, the crew of three umpires walked out of the stadium through left field. They could not hear the plethora of fans, players and coaches screaming at them to turn around.

“Seeing them walk off was the hardest part when we were calling them,” Elliott said.

Cactus coach Bartt Underwood ran out to lobby his case to the officials. After several minutes of deliberation, the call stood and the game was over.

A tournament director who appeared to see the play clearly declined comment, as well.

Though disappointed, Underwood said the eighth-inning play was not the sole reason for the loss. The Cobras had other chances to close out the championship.

“It’s never one thing. We can say that play lost the game, but what about those two errors we had?” Underwood said about a sixth inning that Cactus blew a 5-4 lead. “We had that lead, and if we hold them there, we’re going into the seventh with a lead instead of a tie.”

Though it delayed the celebration a bit, while both teams anxiously waited for the umpires’ final decision, the Lancers were still incredibly proud to repeat as state champions.

“We worked hard since the weight room in the fall. All the young ladies on our team have figured out their role and how to contribute, and no matter what this moment is so special and will be remembered in our hearts,” Salpointe Catholic coach Amy Baray-Rocha said.

The Cobras posed with the runner-up trophy.

But several of the players were visibly upset and a bit dumbfounded by the result.

Elliott said she was proud of the way the team bonded all season. Underwood agreed, and said he appreciates the way the girls worked all year.

“In my book you are champions, and we know there was a call here that didn’t go our way,” Underwood said. “So what? Do you have to have a ring on your finger to know you’re a champion?”

Cactus finished the year with a 32-4 record.