KINGMAN – The No. 11 seed Kingman Academy softball team entered the AIA 2A State Tournament with an unblemished 10-0 mark in the West Region. Unfortunately, the Lady Tigers couldn’t carry over that success Friday against No. 6-seeded San Manuel as they dropped a 6-2 loss at Rose Mofford Park in Phoenix.
“(San Manuel) hit the ball, scored a couple of runs and jumped on us early,” Kingman Academy softball coach Tim Pena said. “We just really never could recuperate from there. … We just couldn’t get anything going.”
The Lady Tigers definitely struggled offensively to start the game, as they couldn’t figure out San Manuel’s Nikki Baldenegro. The junior pitcher struck out 10 straight batters before she hit Shaunti Short to give Kingman Academy its first baserunner of the game.
“(Baldenegro) probably had a little bit more movement as far as drop ball, curve ball, etcetera,” Pena said. “But you have to get in there and take your hacks. Good things happen when you put the ball in play.”
Baldenegro made sure the Lady Tigers didn’t get many opportunities to put the ball in play, finishing with 16 strikeouts and allowing just two hits in a complete game effort. Baldenegro ranks first in 2A with 233 strikeouts this season.
Kingman Academy did score a couple of runs in the top of the sixth when Chloe Elliot stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. She connected on a two-run single that scored Trinity Player and Jillian Winters. Unfortunately the Lady Tigers couldn’t push across any more runs after making a small miscue.
“We had a baserunning blunder and got thrown out at second. Just not paying attention,” Pena said. “That killed our rally.”
Jessica Plew tried to start a two-out rally, but hit a hard ground ball to the right side that San Manuel made a play on at first. Kingman Academy then went down in order in the seventh, ending its season.
Plew was charged with the loss, yielding three earned runs on six hits with two strikeout and two walks in two innings of work. Maryssa Edwards pitched four innings of relief, allowing just one earned run on five hits with two strikeout and one walk.
The Lady Tigers managed two hits in the loss, while San Manuel racked up 11 base knocks and six RBIs.
The Lady Tigers finish 2017 with a 14-4 record in the 2A Conference.
“We played hard and never quit,” Pena said. “I’m very proud of them and the year they had.”
Kingman Academy doesn’t graduate anyone and will have a strong senior class of eight Lady Tigers, with six of those being starters on this year’s squad.
“I’m really proud of all the girls,” Pena said. “Everybody has stepped up their game. I feel really, really confident going into next year. (A lot of) the girls (will be) seniors. It’s going to be a sad year for me because I’ve had them for almost five years. But I’m really looking forward to it. We were talking (Friday) night and all the girls are extremely driven, so I think we’re sitting well.”
One area that Pena and his staff will focus on is scheduling tougher opponents next season after Kingman Academy lost in the first round for the second straight year.
With that being said, Pena knows the Lady Tigers can’t make excuses.
“We may look next year at going into some different tournaments,” Pena said. “Not to take anything away from our region, but it’s not super strong. So you just can’t afford any mistakes (in the state tournament). You just have to be on the top of your game and take advantage of everything they give you.”