Controversy followed the Cactus Cobras again in their second state title game in the past three years.
In the Cobras’ 2016 title game, a non home run call cost them, and this year, a safe call at first base led to two Tucson Salpointe Catholic runs that were the difference; Cactus (30-5) lost 2-0 in the 4A title game at Arizona State University Farrington Field May 15.
Cactus starting pitcher freshman McKenna Feringa was dominant and through five innings had only allowed two infield singles after retiring the first 10 Lancers while striking out five.
“(Feringa) pitched her heart out tonight,” Cactus head coach Bartt Underwood said. “She was firing early and had a no-hitter through four innings.”
Then, in the fifth, controversy ensued when Salpointe Catholic’s Alyssa Ortiz dropped a bunt that Cactus third baseman Aubrey Chavez fielded and fired to first for what appeared to be the first out of the inning, but the umpire called her safe.
Salpointe Catholic’s (33-4-1) top hitter Yannira Acuna followed with a triple to left field, scoring Ortiz and Acuna when the throw home sailed to the backstop.
“The call at first helped us lose this game,” Underwood said. “Their best hitter was coming up (after the safe call) and I would have walked her because we didn’t want anyone on base when she was up. It is what it is and I told our girls everything has to fall into place to win a state title and they didn’t fall into place for us tonight.”
After the call, the Cobras huddled together on the mound and senior Emilie Guerra said the girls tried to get past the non-call.
“We knew she was out,” Guerra said. “But we can only control what we can control and the last time we were here, something similar happened to us. We had our head up and just knew we could battle back, but we just couldn’t get it back.”
Cactus, which went into the game averaging more than 10 runs a game, could only muster three hits off Salpointe Catholic starting pitcher freshman Alyssa Aguilar, who pitched a complete game, striking out two and walking one.
Cactus had opportunities. With one out in the second, senior Nicole Osteen walked and stole second but was stranded when Aguilar retired Hannah Difabio and Carson Gambs.
In the third, Kaiulani Nowell led off with a single and after Kaytlin Leyvas and Chavez flied out, Alynah Torres crushed a double to right centerfield and as Nowell headed toward third, Underwood was waving her home but stopped her at the last minute.
“I was waving her home as soon as (Torres) hit that ball,” Underwood said. “Then, at the last minute, I slammed the brakes because she would have been thrown out. I probably should have had (Leyvas or Chavez) sacrifice her, then she would have scored easily.”
After that, Aguilar was dominant, retiring the final 12 Cactus batters to give the Lancers their first state title since 1996.
Cactus returns a majority of the roster next season with Guerra, Osteen, Ashleigh Kennedy and Arylana Sedillo as the only four graduating seniors.
“It is tough, but we have had great success and it is a great feeling to know that girls want to come to Cactus now because we are now a winning program,” Osteen said. “The school has been so supportive this year; we actually stormed the halls, which is something the football team does and they were there supporting us and it was great.”
Guerra, who came in relief of Feringa in the seventh, retired the final two batters in her final game as part of the Cobras.
“I was just trying to do anything I could to try and get the outs so we could give ourselves one more shot to get runs,” Guerra said.
Underwood added that the senior team members were special and they will be tough to replace.
“Those seniors played in two title games and they have come such a long way,” Underwood said. “I never want to say you can’t replace them, but knowing we are losing a starting second baseman (Osteen) and pitcher and first baseman (Guerra), they will be missed and it will take three or four to replace them.”