AIA365

Don Ketchum
Former Staff Writer, AIA365.com

Queen Creek rallies in 7th, wins softball opener in 9th

Queen Creek’s softball season was on life support.

The Bulldogs had squandered a 1-0 lead in Saturday’s (May 3) Division II state-tournament opener, allowing host Peoria to score three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, the last two coming on two throwing errors on the same play.

Queen Creek stepped to the plate in the top of the seventh, perhaps for one last time.

The leadoff hitter popped out, but things then started to turn around.

A single to left field, followed by a single to right in which the center fielder and right fielder collided and the ball dropped in.  A fielder’ s choice grounder made it two outs.  A double by Ryann Holmes brought home one run and a wild pitch let in the tying run.

Peoria got a hit in the bottom of the seventh, but Queen Creek got out of it with a double play.

Extra innings.

In the top of the ninth, Bailey Kuehl hit a leadoff single, was sacrificed to second but looked like she would remain there. With two outs, Holmes smacked another double over the center fielder’s head, and that gave Queen Creek all it needed for a 4-3 victory.

No. 17 seed Queen Creek (24-6) advances to the second round on Tuesday (May 6) and will travel to face top-seeded Buckeye Verrado (25-2) at 4 p.m. No. 16 seed Peoria finished at 27-4.

“Now is when it starts. Everybody was 0-0 and now we’re 1-0,’’ said Queen Creek coach Katie Bundy. “We don’t know much about Verrado, but all I know is that we’re going to come in and play the game as hard as we can.’’

Queen Creek pitcher Madi Merrell and Peoria pitcher Tiana Salazar were locked in a duel most of the day. Both pitchers went the distance, Merrell striking out eight and Salazar six.

Merrell, one of only four seniors on the Queen Creek roster, knew what it meant to her teammates for the season to continue, Bundy said.

Merrell buckled down and figured in the final three outs of the game in the ninth. She got the leadoff hitter on a grounder back to the circle, struck out the second batter and snagged a drive in the air to end it.

Bundy said the big plays were Lexi Valenzuela’s sacrifice and Holmes’ double.

Did Bundy think the ball was going over the center fielder’s head?

“Yes . . . well, I was hoping,’’ she said.