One more has finally come to fruition for the Cactus Cobras.
Cactus, ranked No. 3, has preached one more all season and after the Cobras held on for a 4-3 semifinal victory May 10 over Mohave, they will play for the state title game May 15 against No. 5 Tucson Salpointe Catholic at Arizona State University Farrington Stadium.
Leading 4-0 heading into the seventh, the Cobras were cruising as Mohave had been held to three hits before it finally got rolling.
Cactus starting pitcher freshman McKenna Feringa loaded the bases with one out on two singles and a walk. Mohave’s Daezsha Goodloe hit a long fly ball to centerfield and runners were forced to hold as centerfielder Hannah Difabio was unable to make the catch, allowing one run to score.
Feringa then struck out Alicia Rhodes for the second out before Kalani Reehill hit a sinking fly ball to short center field where Difabio made a diving attempt, but the ball hit her on the wrist for a single allowing two more runs to score.
That brought head coach Bartt Underwood to the mound to try to calm down his pitcher.
“I just told her to relax and that the girl coming up liked the ball up and to keep the pitches down,” Underwood said. “She asked me not to call her rise ball, and I told her she already had three strikeouts with the rise ball and I didn’t want to hear that.”
Feringa was then patted by catcher Kaytlin Leyvas and got a 1-1 count on Jaden McDaniel with runners on first and third.
Feringa said she was just trying to get the batter and keep the ball down.
“Coach just said relax and trust my pitches,” Feringa said. “I have a great defense behind me and I just had to make my pitches.”
Feringa then fired a pitch that McDaniel hit to shallow left, but Cactus left fielder Kaiulani Nowell raced in, making a running catch to end the game and send the Cobras back to the title game for the first time since losing the Division II title game to Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge in 2016.
“Their pitcher was aggressive, and once we had a cushion, we could breathe easier, but what does that tell you?” Underwood said. “Thank God we won, and that last fly I knew (Nowell) would catch it. This game was closer than I wanted it to be and you have to give credit to (Mohave head coach Shannon Patterson).”
Cactus opened the scoring in the third when junior Carson Gambs led off with a single to right field before being sacrificed to third. With two outs, sophomore Aubrey Chavez hit a ground ball to short, where McDaniel made a diving stop, but Chavez beat the throw to first, allowing Gambs to score.
The game stayed 1-0 until the sixth when the Cobras broke the game open.
Junior shortstop Alynah Torres led off with a towering home run to right field and was surprised they gave her anything to hit.
“I was actually surprised that I got one to hit,” Torres said. “But I get it, I was leading off the inning and they probably wanted to see if they could get it out.”
After a fly out by senior Emilie Guerra, senior Ashleigh Kennedy crushed a ball that bounced over the center field wall for a ground rule double. Senior Nicole Osteen then doubled to right center, scoring Kennedy before being brought home on a single by Gambs to give the Cobras a 4-0 lead heading into the final inning.
Feringa pitched a complete game, striking out five and walking one for the win while four different batters drove in a run for the Cobras. Gambs had two hits while Osteen and Feringa each had a double in the win.
“Mohave was a different team from when we last played them (in the second round),” Feringa said. “It doesn’t matter who we play in the championship, we want to go out and have some fun and bring back the championship.”
Cactus had defeated Mohave May 1 11-0 in five innings in the second round of the playoffs and Underwood knew it would come out with a different game plan in the semifinals.
“They struggled early and went to the bunt, which told me they didn’t think they could hit a lot,” Underwood said. “But once they made an adjustment and got on the plate, (Feringa) jammed them a little bit and got the outs until that last inning.”
Cactus won six championships (2006, 2004, 2003, 1994, 1989 and 1987) and had been runner-up four times (2016, 2002, 1995, and 1988) and Underwood has won one title as head coach of Centennial (2012), before taking over the Cactus program in 2012.
As the Cobras head to the title game, Osteen, who was one of four seniors returning to the championship game, was focused on one thing.
“This is a great feeling, but we have one more game,” Osteen said. “I want to leave with a ring, and we have one more game to play, and this team is focused.”