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Palo Verde clinches No. 1 seed in Southwest League softball

Palo Verde softball coach Kelly Glass wouldn’t go so far as to say her team was scared the first time it faced Shadow Ridge.

She did, however, note that her Panthers felt no fear Wednesday.

Palo Verde took advantage of early wildness by Mustangs pitcher Shelbi Denman to score twice in the first inning and went on to secure the Southwest League’s No. 1 seed for the postseason with a 4-1 home win over Shadow Ridge.

The No. 1 Panthers (27-8) and No. 2 Mustangs (11-4) both finished 7-1 in the league, but by winning the second meeting, the Panthers earned their third straight league title and a top seed in the Sunset Region tournament. Palo Verde also avenged a 1-0 loss at Shadow Ridge on April 13.

“They weren’t scared today,” Glass said. “Before the first game, the girls kept talking about their pitcher, and they worked themselves up into a little frenzy before the game. We’ve been waiting for this game.”

Palo Verde scored all the runs it needed in the first inning, cashing in after leadoff batter Makall Whetten was hit by a pitch and Kiley Harrison followed with a walk.

Mackenzie McBride’s sacrifice advanced both runners, and Grace Chavez’s bloop single to short right field scored Whetten. Kali Tomlinson’s grounder to second scored Harrison for a 2-0 lead.

Senior pitcher Kelsea Sweeney took care of the rest, tossing a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts — six of them looking.

Shadow Ridge seriously threatened in only two innings and ran itself out of both threats.

Kate Dennis’ two-out single to left in the third inning scored Alisha Schultz, but Justin Garganese got caught too far away from second base on the play and was thrown out at third in a rundown to end the inning.

In the fourth, the Mustangs had two runners on with one out, but Samantha Milanovich was caught trying to steal third. After a walk, Sweeney retired the Mustangs’ final 10 batters, including an impressive 13-pitch strikeout of Dennis in the sixth.

“She threw pretty well,” Glass said. “She was fired up for this game, but she always wants the ball more.”

Dejanae Gage hit a solo homer and Jordan Menke an RBI double in the fourth inning for Palo Verde.

The Panthers, the defending Division I state champions, open region tournament play at home against Cimarron-Memorial at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Shadow Ridge will host Desert Oasis at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“Today was the first step in the process,” Glass said. “We sat down before the season and again (Tuesday) and talked about the little steps we have to take to get another (championship).”

Contact reporter Bartt Davis at bdavis@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5230.

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