Stellar pitching, defense carry Palo Verde to title

Three hundred twenty-seven pitches, 31 strikeouts, three wins.

And most importantly, one Sunset Region softball title and a trip to Reno.

It was all in a day’s work for Palo Verde junior Melissa McCormick.

McCormick allowed only two runs in 21 innings Friday as the Panthers pulled off the improbable, beating Durango 4-2 in the losers’ bracket final and posting 5-0 and 6-0 wins over Legacy to capture the Sunset title at Majestic Park.

Palo Verde (28-8) is the Sunset’s representative in next week’s state tourney in Reno and will face the Northern Region champion at 10 a.m. May 21.

“My team kept me in it. It was all about having heart,” McCormick said. “The adrenaline is killing me right now. I just want to go out and play again. This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had.”

McCormick and senior catcher Erika Stratton, who worked together for all 21 innings, shared a quick hug after a strikeout of Legacy’s Jessie Wilhelm ended the double-elimination tournament.

“We were just in sync all day. It was unbelievable,” Stratton said. “We were reading each other’s minds. If you don’t trust the pitcher and the pitcher doesn’t trust the catcher, you’re not going to get anything done.”

After losing to Legacy in the winners’ bracket final Thursday, Palo had to win thrice Friday to earn the team’s first state berth since 2003.

Enter McCormick and a razor-sharp defense, which limited Legacy (28-5) to six hits and didn’t commit an error in the two championship games.

“Missy would say the same thing — she couldn’t have done this without her team backing her up today,” Palo Verde coach Kelly Glass said. “We played defense well.”

The team effort carried over on offense with four players scoring in the first game against Legacy and the bottom third of Palo Verde’s order driving in four runs in the finale.

“We had people hit the ball who don’t normally hit the ball,” Glass said. “We had people lay down bunts who weren’t laying bunts down before.”

In the deciding game, Cheryl Iddings’ bases-loaded single in the second inning scored Lauryn Stover and Stratton to give Palo Verde the lead for good.

Angel Council’s grounder to third base in the fourth was thrown into the right-field corner for a four-base error, allowing two runs to score and moving the lead to 4-0.

Andi Molin’s bases-loaded bunt single and an RBI groundout by Rachel Mez in the fifth provided insurance.

McCormick allowed an infield hit and a walk to start the top of the sixth before striking out the side and then got two more strikeouts in the seventh.

Danielle Hearn’s first-inning RBI single scored Council to give Palo Verde a 1-0 lead in the first game against Legacy.

The Panthers upped the lead to 3-0 in the fourth when Stover and Stratton scored on a two-out error, and Stratton tacked on a two-out, two-run homer in the sixth. Stratton went 4-for-5 with three runs in the two games against Legacy.

McCormick had 13 strikeouts in a two-hitter in the first game against Legacy.

■ Palo Verde 4, Durango 2 — In the losers’ bracket final, Hearn broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the fourth inning, and Palo Verde survived a late scare to advance.

McCormick and Stratton added doubles later in the fourth to extend the lead before Jaexie Balilea’s two-run home run in the sixth brought the Trailblazers (23-9) within a run.

A bloop RBI double by Molin in the top of the seventh put the Panthers ahead 4-2.

Durango then loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but McCormick induced a groundout to second base to end the threat.

McCormick had two hits for Palo Verde.

Balilea went 3-for-3 for Durango.

Contact reporter Bartt Davis at or 702-387-5230.

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