AIA baseball, softball tournaments underway

David Sowders/Arizona Silver Belt Gabe Garcia, shown hitting an RBI single against Santa Rita, and the Miami Vandals look to earn this year’s Conference 2A title.

The chase for state championships in high school baseball and softball is on as the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) tournaments, which started last week, kick into gear.

Baseball

After coming close last year, the 2A South champion Miami Vandals (24-4, 10-0) are looking to end this season with a state title. Though their first-round opponent remained uncertain at press time – brackets for those games, set for Friday, May 6, were not yet posted – the Vandals were ranked among the eight automatic qualifiers. Joining them in that group were the Morenci Wildcats, who finished second in 2A East at 7-4 (14-9 overall).

The 2A play-in round will be held Tuesday, May 3. Matchups include the #9 Pima Roughriders, who placed fourth in 2A East at 4-6 (9-9 overall), vs. the #24 Veritas Prep Falcons. The 10th-seeded Round Valley Elks, who went 17-7 and were unbeaten in 2A North (7-0), will meet the 23rd-seeded Ganado Hornets.

Conference 1A begins its championship drive the same day, with the Mogollon High Mustangs, from Heber, looking to turn the top seed into a state title. With a 19-4 record, and unbeaten in 1A North at 11-0, Mogollon will face the 16th-seeded Valley Union Blue Devils, of Elfrida, on Tuesday.

A pair of Copper Corridor teams are also in the hunt; the #5 Hayden Lobos and #8 Ray Bearcats, who finished first and second in 1A East. Both will open  the tournament with home games: Hayden (17-5, 9-0) against the #12 Lincoln Prep Lightning, and the Bearcats (15-10, 7-2) facing the #9 Fredonia Lynx.

In Conference 3A, things got underway with play-in games last Saturday; the 9th-seeded Thatcher Eagles recorded a 16-0 victory over the #24 Window Rock Fighting Scouts. The Eagles, 3A South Central champions at 10-0 (22-3 overall), will meet the #8 Benjamin Franklin Chargers in Queen Creek in Tuesday’s first round.

Softball

Conference 2A will hold play-in games on Tuesday, May 3, and the Miami Vandals are in. Earning the 18th seed with a second-place finish in 2A South, the Vandals (10-16, 4-2) will meet the #15 Phoenix Christian Cougars on the road. Meanwhile, the 14th-seeded Pima Roughriders (12-15, fourth place in 2A East) will host the 19th-seeded Ganado Hornets.

First-round games in 2A will take place Friday, May 6. Though brackets were not yet posted at press time, the 2A North champion Round Valley Elks (25-4, 7-0) and 2A East third-place finisher Morenci Wildcats (17-8, 7-3) were seeded second and seventh, respectively.

The Conference 1A tournament, which opens on Wednesday, May 4, features four teams from 1A East – including the top two seeds, the San Manuel Miners and Superior Panthers. The #1 Miners (16-5, 6-1), riding a six-game win streak, will host the #16 Fort Thomas Apaches; the second-seeded Panthers (15-6, 7-1), winners of seven straight, will play the #15 Antelope Union Rams. The Hayden Lobos and Ray Bearcats also qualified from 1A East, earning the #9 and #11 seeds. The Lobos will face off with the #8 Mohave Accelerated Patriots in Bullhead City, while Ray travels to Tucson to meet the #6 Desert Christian Eagles.

Conference 3A play-in games were held last Saturday. The #20 Safford  Bulldogs upended the #13 Payson Longhorns 6-1 and, in a matchup of Eagles, #23 Thatcher fell 9-1 to #10 American Leadership Academy-Gilbert North. First-round games will be on Tuesday, May 3, when Safford (20-11-1, 6-6 in 3A South) heads north for a matchup with another Bulldogs team, second-seeded Winslow (23-7, 9-1 in 3A East).

Conferences 4A and 6A held play-in games last Wednesday, with the first rounds on Saturday. In 4A the 23rd-seeded Apache Junction Prospectors bowed out early, falling 10-0 to the #10 Flagstaff Eagles in the play-in round. In 6A, the third-seeded Queen Creek Bulldogs (24-4, 8-2 in 6A Central), advanced to round two with a 3-2 win over the #14 Sunnyslope Vikings. The Bulldogs will host the #11 Red Mountain Lions on Wednesday, May 4.

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