On a day when Cactus honored the 2006 USA Today National Championship team, the Cobras showed why they are considered a favorite to return a championship back to Cactus High School for the first time in 12 years.
As nine members of the last Cobras state championship team looked on, sophomore Cassie Elliot allowed one hit and struck out eight as Cactus cruised to a 12-0 victory over Moon Valley.
“It is an amazing feeling to honor that team and have them here watching,” Elliot said. “I was really focused to get the win and it was a great feeling on a very special day.”
Moon Valley’s Kendyl Terry led off the game with a double on the second pitch of the game, and the Rockets got runners on first and second after Elliot walked Cynthia Barraza with one out.
Elliot then stepped off the mound and took a deep breath before taking over the game.
“That really puts a little pressure on me and I get a little frustrated,” Elliot said. “But I know to calm down and relax and just hit my spots and trust my defense.”
The Cactus defense came through as Mikaela Salkauskas hit a sharp ground ball back to Elliot, who threw to third baseman Aubrey Chavez, who fired across the diamond to McKenna Feringa at first for the inning-ending double play.
The Cobras offense then took over in the bottom of the first when Alynah Torres led off with a single and scored on a triple by Chavez. Chavez was then brought home on a single by Kaytlin Leyvas and she was brought home on a double by Feringa to put the Cobras up 3-0.
“Moon Valley got to (Elliot) early, but she calmed down and then our offense got rolling early,” Cactus head coach Bartt Underwood said. “I have been telling them to focus on each game and they really did that today.”
In the second, Cactus blew the game open when it sent 12 batters to the plate, with Kailuani Nowell and Torres each driving in two runs and Leyvas, Feringa, Hannah Difabio and Nicole Osteen each driving in a run.
After the first inning, Elliot dominated, retiring the final 13 batters to secure the victory as the Cobras continue to defend their No. 1 ranking in the 4A division.
“I have never coached a No. 1-ranked team in the power rankings, and we are there right now, so that is special,” Underwood said. “But I keep telling them, it is not how you start the season, it is how you are playing in May.”
Nine different Cobras got a hit and eight drove in a run, led by Torres, Leyvas, Nowell and Feringa driving in two runs each.
During the middle of the second inning, the 2006 team was welcomed as current Cobras handed out flowers and honored the last team to win a title for Cactus softball.
Nine members of the team, along with head coach Jeff Griffith, were honored by the current squad in a ceremony in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Griffith, who is now an assistant to Underwood, was head coach at Cactus for 23 seasons, totaling 512 wins before retiring after the 2006 season.
“This was a really cool thing and was nice to see those girls since I haven’t seen most of them in years,” Griffith said. “I wish the entire team could have made it, but it was extra special to win the game on this day.”
Griffith said the 2006 team was special and was honored to be recognized after 12 years and he remains a fixture at Cactus even as an assistant to Underwood.
“I just love the game and love Cactus and (Underwood) and I coached against each other and wanted to beat the heck out of each other for 17 years, but we had a lot of respect for each other and have never been enemies,” Griffith said. “This is his team and I just want to help bring a title back to Cactus High School.”
Asked when Griffith sees a day when he will not be on the field, he said, “I want to coach until I can’t, I guess.”