The Flagstaff Girls Softball Little League 10- to 12-year-old All-Stars survived a late push by Queen Creek to advance to the state tournament title round with a 6-4 win Thursday night at Coconino High School.
Going into the bottom of the sixth inning with a 6-1 advantage, Flagstaff pitcher Gracie Schmitz would face her toughest inning of the night as she registered two walks in the frame. After the second walk with two outs on the board, Schmitz gave up a two-run triple to deep right-center field as Queen Creek closed the gap to 6-4.
After a wild pitch gave Queen Creek a runner on second with the tying run up to bat, Schmitz stayed calm and registered her 10th strikeout of the night to secure the victory and give Flagstaff at least one more shot at San Xavier, which pushed Flagstaff into the losers bracket.
“(Schmitz) is a warrior,” Flagstaff manager Mark Wilson said. “She proved she doesn’t allow the emotions of the situation to dictate what and how she performs, and that is a true champion heart right there. All these girls were sticking in there behind her making the plays they needed to make. We had some really good support and, you know, Gracie had to do what she does best and buckle down and make that one count, and she did.”
Schmitz finished her night with a complete-game win, ending up with four walks and seven hits against her. She added to her cause at the plate, going 3 for 3 with one walk and one steal.
Flagstaff totaled 13 hits but left 11 runners on base, leading to numerous missed opportunities for the team to pull away.
Flagstaff did the brunt of its damage in the second inning with four runs in the frame. Kody Watson brought in the first run of the inning on an RBI double and Cali Brace replaced Watson at second for an RBI. Brace finished the night 1 for 1 and Watson went 1 for 3.
Flagstaff lost to San Xavier on Tuesday in a low-scoring game that ended 1-0. Flagstaff registered just one hit, due in part to the performance of San Xavier pitcher Ariana Flores, something Wilson said his team is better prepared for now that they have seen them once before.
“We’re really excited about it,” Wilson said. “We think it is a really good matchup for a lot of reasons. We had to do some growing on the way that their pitcher throws with the riseball, but I think our girls are totally prepared.”
Flagstaff must beat San Xavier twice to win the state title if it wants to repeat as state champions and will get the first chance to do so Friday at 6 p.m. at Coconino.
With a walkoff victory over Continental on Thursday in Winslow, West Flagstaff completed the All-Stars age groups sweep and advanced to the state tournament.
His team down 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Garrett Mercer drove in the winning runs on a two-out single for West Flagstaff, which now has all four age groups at a state tourney after posting the 6-5 victory. It was the fourth time West Flagstaff bested Continental in the different age groups to move to the next level.
Brock Maier led off the final frame with a walk, and Gavin Shores singled in the next at-bat before a strikeout and flyout put Continental close to finishing their comeback victory after falling behind early in the game. Mercer, however, sent a 2-1 pitch into center field, and Maier and Shores came home from scoring positions after moving up on a passed ball during Mercer's at-bat to seal the deal.
It was Mercer's lone hit of the day that won the contest. Wes Hanley and Camden Hagerman also contributed RBIs in the victory.
West Flagstaff scored two runs in the second inning and one in the third while keeping Continental off the scoreboard.
Kole Flores reached on an error as Connor Culwell crossed home plate to knot the game up in the top of the sixth at 5-all for Continental, which scored two runs in both the fourth and fifth. Culwell went 2 for 4 with two runs scored and Flores finished his day 1 for 2 with an RBI.
West Flagstaff's Wes Hanley, who was 1 for 2 with a walk, hit a home run to start the bottom of the second inning, sending his shot over the left-field fence.
Tyler Ragan was 2 for 4 with a run scored for Continental, which lost its opening game of the tourney and had to grind through the losers bracket to reach the title game. Ragan lasted 4 2/3 innings on the mound, with four runs crossing under his watch on six hits. He struck out four and issued three walks. Wyatt Bellar spent an inning of relief on the rubber, striking out two and allowing two runs and as many hits.
Hanley started on the bump for West Flagstaff and lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on 10 hits while striking out five to go with a walk. Camden Hagerman came in and struck out a batter after a hit. West Flagstaff also had an error to Continental's clean game.