Mustangs make pitch for repeat

Only a few years ago, Mandy Harmon wasn’t even one of the best two pitchers on her youth team.

A lack of playing time inside the circle inspired the Shadow Ridge junior to work harder.

Now she’s arguably one of the best pitchers in the area.

Harmon, who boasts a 19-1 record and a 0.59 earned-run average, leads the Mustangs into the Sunset Region tournament, which begins Tuesday at Stephanie Lynn Craig Park. Shadow Ridge, the defending region champion, faces Spring Valley at 5 p.m. in the first round of the double-elimination tournament.

“When I was younger, I didn’t get to pitch that much,” Harmon said. “There were two older girls that were pretty much the star pitchers.”

Harmon could have focused on another position.

Instead, she began taking pitching lessons and playing travel softball in the summer and fall. The work she put in has produced amazing results.

After going 12-3 with a 0.63 ERA and 135 strikeouts last year, Harmon has fanned 161 in 118 2/3 innings this season.

“She has the heart for the game, and she’s such a team player,” Mustangs coach Cynthia Winter said. “She doesn’t take the spotlight. Anytime she is praised, she deflects it to her team.”

The Mustangs are deserving of all-around praise after finishing 20-1 in the regular season and winning the Northwest Division.

There’s no question, though, the team wouldn’t be as successful without Harmon, who throws eight pitches.

“She moves the ball in and out, so you can’t sit on any pitch with her,” Centennial coach Mike Livreri said. “She has built a reputation as a good pitcher.”

Opponents rarely have scoring opportunities against Harmon and feel pressured to make the most of them. Generally, if Shadow Ridge’s offense can produce two or three runs, it’s enough to win.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever thought of it in those terms,” Winter said. “It’s almost a curse because we almost take for granted that Mandy will shut them down. Whenever somebody has been off, there’s someone there to pick them up. That’s been huge.”

As if Harmon’s right arm weren’t already enough, the Mustangs have a couple of other things going for them — experience and desire.

Winning the region title and advancing to the state tournament last season boosted the team’s confidence but also left the squad hungry for a repeat.

“This year it’s tougher because last year we were just trying to do better,” Harmon said. “This year, we have to show we still have it. We still want to do it again.”

In other first-round matchups in the Sunset Region, Southwest champion Clark faces Palo Verde at 3 p.m., Durango meets Centennial at 5 p.m., and Sierra Vista plays Cimarron-Memorial at 7 p.m.

The Sunrise Region tournament also is being held at Stephanie Lynn Craig Park beginning Tuesday. First-round matchups are Southeast champion Silverado against Eldorado and Northeast champ Las Vegas versus Liberty at 3 p.m. and Foothill facing Rancho and Green Valley meeting Valley at 7 p.m.

The regional championship games are scheduled for Friday.

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