No. 2 Lady Prospectors Repeat as Black Canyon Champions
By Daniel Dullum
For 48 hours, Apache Junction enjoyed the status of being ranked No. 1 on the AIA 4A softball power poll.
It was fun while it lasted. But the Lady Prospectors are still sitting pretty at No. 2 with the playoffs coming up on Saturday.
“It’s been a ride,” AJ shortstop Denae Preuhs said. “It’s been rough some days and really good some days. We definitely lost a ton of our starting seniors from last year and with so many freshmen, it’s been hard.
“But we all have the talent, we all put in the work, and we have effort and heart for the game and it pays off.”
“It’s a great feeling really,” AJ pitcher-outfielder Mikayla Gilgert said. “I feel like we deserve it, honestly. I know that in the playoffs, we can’t act like ‘We’re No. 1.’ We have to stay focused. You have to act like you’re No. 20 and play these games.”
Dropping to No. 20 isn’t a likely scenario. By April 20, the Lady Prospectors (22-6 overall) were replaced at the top of the heap by Canyon Del Oro, even though AJ completed a sweep of San Tan Valley Combs one day earlier, clinching their second consecutive Black Canyon Region championship in the process.
“We’ll enjoy this for as long as we can,” Lady Prospectors Coach Ed Matlosz said. “I’m going to make a copy of the rankings and frame it!”
AJHS started the week with a 24-0 road win at Scottsdale Coronado on April 16, a 21-0 win one day later at Combs, and a 10-0, six-inning win on Senior Night over the No. 15 Coyotes.
The Lady Prospectors have outscored their opponents 89-2 in their last five games.
“We’ve been practicing a lot of hitting more this season than in previous seasons,” Gilgert said. “Our defense is always strong, but our offense wasn’t very strong. But this season we’ve been working a lot more on offense.
“When you see live pitching in practice and then see live pitching in games, you’re not scared.”
Matlosz credits his assistant, Bill Wilson, with developing the team’s successful offensive concept.
“Bill calls it his ‘organized chaos,’” Matlosz said. “We’re trying to create situations where defense has to react. Combs adjusted today, and they played some tough defense early, so we didn’t have that big inning.”
In the first game against Combs (19-9 overall), AJ scored six runs in the first inning and eight more in the second. Elexis Toro was 4-for-5 with a double, three runs, and three runs batted in. Gilgert, Sarah Nieman, Cori Haro, Priscilla Saldate, Daisy Ruelas-Estrada each drove in two runs.
On the mound, Gilgert (13-3, 2.09 ERA) scattered two hits, and struck out 10 without a walk.
“We got on them early, “We got in their heads, and (Combs Coach Tony Thomson) had to settle his girls down. They were very tight, while our girls were very relaxed,” Matlosz said.
“And Mouse was on her game and shut them down.”
In the rematch at the AJHS diamond, the Lady Prospectors built a 2-0 lead after two innings before breaking through with three runs in the third and four in the fourth, when Gilgert drove a two-run triple to left field.
Tristin Greer delivered the game-ending hit in the bottom of the sixth, driving in Gilgert, who led off the inning with a base hit.
Gilgert was 3-for-4 and scored three runs, and Preuhs had a single, triple, walk and two runs. Greer was 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Gilgert also held the Coyotes to three hits and a walk while logging 15 strikeouts.
As a part of Senior Night, the Lady Prospectors all wore a special grease paint design on all of their faces, from under their eyes at an angle down to the sides of their faces.
“Sierra Romero started it playing for Michigan,” Preuhs explained. “She’s an amazing athlete and I feel that I incorporate what she does to my daily routines. It’s kind of like representing her, and representing the game of softball.
“Sometimes, it makes you feel tougher and gives you confidence!”
Photo above: A jubilant Apache Junction softball team lets everyone know who’s No. 1 in the 4A Black Canyon Region following a second straight shutout of rival Combs on April 19. (Photo by Daniel Dullum)