May 18, 2005 - Nineteen high school teams from the Northwest and Foothills area entered the state spring sports playoffs held from May 6 though May 14 in Tucson and Phoenix, with two winning championships-the Canyon Del Oro girl's softball team (see story page 1) and the girl's track and field squad from Catalina Foothills (page 53) - and three finishing as runnersup. CDO boy's volleyball, Catalina Foothills baseball and Pusch Ridge softball, finished the year as state runners-up in their respective conferences.
With Canyon Del Oro's boys volleyball team trailing 13-22 in the third game of the Class 4A/5A state championship match against Gilbert Highland at Brophy High School in Phoenix, the look on David Hallowell's anguished face was enough to surmise the desperation and reality washing over the senior's team.
The Hitmen's magically dominant season was unraveling at its seams.
Gilbert Highland (25-3) was able to hold off CDO, despite a late surge by the Hitmen and Hallowell, winning in three games 25-15, 20-25, 25-18. At 40-3 overall on the year, CDO finishes as the state runner up.
Considered the most dominating and dynamic volleyball team in the state this year, CDO ran into a tough Gilbert Highland squad determined to defend its 4A/5A title from last season.
"We gave it everything we had," said senior Tim McGann. "They (Highland) played a great game, they deserved to win."
After dropping the first game versus Highland, CDO won a seesaw second game that featured six lead changes and 12 ties, the latest coming at 20-20. The Hitmen went on to win the next five points and the game 25-20, its biggest margin of the game.
Highland jumped on CDO early in the third game and won going away 25-18, not once giving up the lead. Facing match point at 16-24, Hallowell stepped up with two thunderous slams to spark a little life into the Dorados. It was too little, too late as Highland finished the game shortly thereafter.
The Hitmen struggled with their serves in the championship game, uncharacteristically sending balls long or into the net.
For the three games, Hallowell tied teammates Jon Watson and Matt Watson in kills, with each senior registering eight. Setter Steven Madsen added 33 assists and McGann and Curtis Jacques each contributed a match high 12 digs.
Entering the title game against Highland, CDO - the 5A Southern Region Champion and the state tournament's No. 1 seed - had sailed through the state playoffs with relative ease. The Hitmen didn't lose a game in wins over Cienega (25-19, 25-7), Gilbert (25-20, 25-22) and Mesa Mountain View (25-18, 25-22).
"Our kids played with character and heart," said head CDO coach Patrick McDonald.
For the coach, who has been with the program since its inception in 1990, the loss to Highland may have been his last.
"After coaching these kids, I don't think I could ever coach another team again," said McDonald who will step down as skipper of the Hitmen.
CDO entered the state playoffs ranked No.1 in the state, dominating every main tournament of the season winning the Hitman, Brophy and McClintock invitationals in convincing fashion.
"This is more than I could ever have imagined as a team," said Hallowell after the grueling loss, referring to his teammates as his brothers.
The Hitmen will look to reload next season, but they'll do so without the services of Hallowell, McGann and eight other seniors including Madsen, the team's player of the year front-runner.
"Our non-starters have been working hard to be ready for next season," said McDonald.
As for this year, the Dorados are left to sift through the rubble of a bitter defeat that will forever mar a nearly unblemished season.
A Class 4A State title will elude Catalina Foothills' baseball team for at least one more year.
For the second time in as many years, and third time in the last four, Foothills' (33-3) title hopes came to a crashing halt in the state title game. This year the Falcons fell to Chaparral, 10-0 in a six-inning mercy rule game May 14 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Foothills' pitcher John James (10-2) was effective against the Firebirds allowing just five hits in four-plus innings of work. Unfortunately for the UA-bound hurler, Chaparral made its hits count, scoring four times to eventually chase him from the mound.
Junior Joe Rohe (7-0) didn't fare much better against the Firebird lineup, which featured Austin Yount, the nephew of baseball hall-of-famer Robin Yount.
"We're definitely disappointed. We work real hard," said Foothills assistant coach J.J. Northam, "and when we don't get that reward, it's a tough lesson."
For Chaparral, the championship was the program's fifth in seven years and third in a row.
Despite falling in the championship game, Foothills enjoyed a banner year in 2005.
While James and a deep pitching staff often get credit for much of its success, the Falcons' offense may be among the best the school has ever put on a baseball diamond.
The Falcons set program records for hits, runs, doubles, RBI and, most importantly, wins. As a team, they batted .360 and averaged 10 runs per game.
With a pitching staff yielding three runs a game, wins were plentiful.
James led the Falcons with his arm and his bat. The senior set the school mark for doubles in a season with 19. Teammate Jimmy Dever also set the Falcons' all-time record for RBI in a year with 58. As a team, Foothills registered more than 300 RBI in 36 games.
Even though they will lose 13 seniors from this year's roster, Northam believes the Falcons will reload and once again be a force to be reckoned with next year when pitchers Rohe and sophomore-to-be Kayvon Bahramzadeh will return. Bahramzadeh (4-1) was a major contributor in the Falcons' rotation as a freshman.
"He pitched some big games for us that a typical freshman would not have been in there," said Northam of Bahramzadeh's performance in clutch situations. "He proved he could handle it early in the year."
There's an old proverb says that when one door is closed, another is opened.
Such was the case this season for the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy's girl's softball squad, who advanced to extra innings of the Class 2A state title game before having its Cinderella season halted, May 13 at Alberta B. Farrington Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University.
The Lions (24-8) were nipped 1-0 by a formidable Scottsdale Christian Academy squad, a team they beat 7-1 earlier in the year.
"We played our best," said Pusch Ridge centerfielder Reagan Sutton, who won a state title in the winter on the PRCA girl's basketball team.
In what can be described as a defensive struggle more than an offensive drought, Pusch Ridge hung tough with the Eagles for seven innings before yielding a game-winning bases-loaded infield single to Scottsdale centerfielder Dani Lougheed.
On April 7, in a game against Baboquivari, any early season momentum the Lions had accrued seemed to be in jeopardy when sophomore Katlyn Freeland injured her little finger on her left hand attempting a hook slide into second base.
Freeland, the team's starting shortstop and leadoff hitter, was a team leader and a catalyst for the Lions offense. Before her season came to an abrupt close, she was leading the team in fielding, batting average, hits, stolen bases and, as the team's web site puts it, hustle.
With surgery knocking Freeland out for the remainder of the season, the Lions rallied and stormed to a second place finish in the 2A South region tournament.
"I'm extremely proud of them," said Lion head coach Larry Barfield, "especially after Katlyn got hurt it would have been easy to fold."
The Lions set a Pusch Ridge school record with 24 wins this year, eclipsing the old mark of 19 set in 2002. When the school was in the Class 1A and known as Palo Verde Christian Academy it won the state title in 1997 with 30 wins.
A big key to the Lions' success this season was the pitching of Shawna Bleyl. As a freshman, Bleyl went 21-6 with a miniscule ERA of 0.45, holding opponents to a .123 batting average. She also accounted for 218 of the team's 232 strikeouts.
Behind any standout freshman is a veteran catcher and Pusch Ridge has one of the better all-around backstops in Southern Arizona in Krista Bour. Bour anchored the infield with a .989 fielding percentage, but her intangibles extend more than her bat or glove work.
Barfield said that Bour's leadership is just as important as her offense and defense.
"It's like having another coach out there on the field," he said.
Other teams in the playoffs included: CDO baseball; Marana, Mountain View and Ironwood Ridge Volleyball; and IRHS and Foothills softball. All of those teams lost in the first or second round except Ironwood Ridge softball, which lost in the semifinals. Members of boys and girls track squads from CDO, Foothills, IRHS, Marana and Mountain View participated in split state finals held May 11 through 13.