Walking off the field after Sunrise Mountain High School’s 1-0 victory over Centennial High School in mid-April, it was clear the rivalry between two of Arizona’s top teams is as strong as ever.
Just one squad competing year after year in late rounds of the state softball playoffs would be something Peoria could be proud of. About five miles on 83rd Avenue separate the Mustangs and Coyotes, who were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in 5A softball for much of the 2019 regular season.
For teams who have both won state champions in the past, and look like they could be at that point again, a pair of contests pitted two teams that could find themselves in the state final in mid-May.
In the first of back-to-back faceoffs to end the regular season, Sunrise Mountain junior pitcher Kylee Messmer threw a complete shutout. She said the pressure her team faced in the two games against Centennial served as dress rehearsals for the eventual playoffs. Both teams were named automatic qualifiers and were set to host at least one postseason game.
“I think it’s nice to have those situations, but also scary at the same time because we know it’s going to be just as tough when we get to the playoffs,” Messmer said.
Both teams entered their last two games at 16-0 in conference play. Sunrise Mountain coach Jody Pruitt was thankful the two teams could play stiff competition before competing in the postseason.
“It’s a good time for us. We’ve had some softer games, and Centennial has as well. So we kind of needed these as a warm-up,” Pruitt said.
Centennial coach Randy Kaye saw the two losses as motivation for his team. Rather than pout and feel despair, the Coyotes see the losses as a chance to learn from their mistakes.
The losing plays made in two close defeats are palpable lessons that he hopes can be taken into late-round play.
“I like that they had to face some adversity to bounce back from. I’m really confident,” Kaye said.
Almost as important as their final records and playoff runs are this year, a pair of close games shows the rivalry between the two Peoria schools is as strong as ever.
Many of the girls play on club teams with their opponents throughout the offseason as well, which gives them a chance for bragging rights. They also use it as an influence to compete even harder, which serves the girls well.
“I think at the same time there’s the wanting to win, but there’s the respect, too. You know how good they are, and it motivates you to be on your own game,” Messner said of the club teammates on separate schools.
Kaye agreed. The tough games without playoff stakes attached served as just the latest chapter in a friendly rivalry that will live on long past when the girls on both teams have graduated.
“For a long time, Sunrise Mountain has been a rival of Centennial. It’s good to see that back, because it’s always something fresh for us and it think it’s good for both teams,” he said.