SUNSET REGION: ‘Overlooked’ Durango reaches winners’ bracket final

Durango’s softball team won 24 regular-season games and captured the Southwest League crown.

Yet, entering this week’s Sunset Region tournament, almost no one outside of the Trailblazers’ dugout and the team’s fanbase gave Durango a chance to win.

It might be time to rethink that.

The Trailblazers jumped to a 3-0 first-inning lead Wednesday and held off Centennial 4-3 in a winners’ bracket semifinal at Majestic Park. Durango (26-7) advances to play Shadow Ridge (24-10) in the winners’ bracket final today at 6 p.m.

“I definitely feel like we were overlooked,” Durango coach Toni Del Toro said. “But being overlooked has just made the players want it more because they don’t feel like they’re being respected. If you’re not going to give it to them, they’re going to take it.”

Durango took advantage of five Centennial errors to score four unearned runs and used the crafty pitching of Nicole Herrera to hold off the Bulldogs (23-8).

Herrera, who missed the final four games of the regular-season with an ankle injury, pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning and retired Centennial’s Nos. 4 and 5 hitters with two runners on base in the seventh inning.

“I was so nervous coming into this game,” Herrera said. “I just tried to keep my ball low and let the defense make plays.”

Entering the week, Shadow Ridge, Centennial and Cimarron-Memorial were the teams many thought had the best chance of winning the region. Durango’s name barely entered the conversation.

“We were way overlooked,” Herrera said. “It’s not that we’re underdogs, but we know that people don’t think we can come out here and win. We want to show people we’re right there at the top.”

Herrera’s one-out double in the fourth inning brought home Marley Sandoval with the decisive run. Sandoval opened the inning by reaching on an error.

Centennial then stranded six runners in the final three innings as Herrera didn’t allow the Bulldogs to come up with a clutch hit.

“She’s a great low-ball pitcher,” Del Toro said. “She was able to relax and just rely on her defense. She did an excellent job of getting herself out of trouble.”

A dropped throw at first base opened the door for Durango’s three-run first inning. A misplayed grounder to short allowed two more runs to score.

Centennial struck back with three runs in the third on Brandy Thaw’s solo home run, a sacrifice fly by Katie Lee and an RBI single by Johnna Brown.

The Bulldogs, though, stranded six runners in scoring position and fell into the losers’ bracket. Centennial will play Bonanza today at 4 p.m.

Shadow Ridge 4, Cimarron-Memorial 0 — On the heels of her no-hitter Tuesday, Mandy Harmon pitched a one-hitter, and the Mustangs did all of their scoring with two outs in the fifth inning to advance to the winners’ bracket final.

With two outs and two runners on in the fifth, the Mustangs strung together a single by Courtney Winnett and doubles by Ashley Eldridge and Rae-Ann Bohm to plate the runs.

Cimarron’s Carrie Sheehan had allowed only one hit before surrendering four in the fifth inning.

Harmon struck out 11 and retired the Spartans’ final 15 batters in order.

Cimarron (22-10) will meet Arbor View in an elimination game today at 4 p.m.

Arbor View 4, Desert Oasis 1 — Tiffanee Anderson had RBI singles in the first and third innings to help the Aggies (17-15) eliminate Desert Oasis (13-22).

Anderson’s two-out single in the first and one-out single in the third both plated Nichole Diaz with Arbor View’s first two runs as the Aggies never relinquished their early lead.

Chelsea Venable added a home run in the seventh for Arbor View.

Winning pitcher Amanda Jones tossed a four-hitter with seven strikeouts and went 2-for-4. Diaz was 2-for-3.

Morgan Hughes was 2-for-2 for the Diamondbacks, whose lone run came on Holly O’Hara’s third-inning RBI single.

Bonanza 3, Clark 2 — Aimee Doyle and Alex Teed each had two hits, including a double to help Bonanza (29-7) knock out Clark (18-13).

Courtney Spencer and Sam Snyder combined on a five-hitter for the Bengals.

Shannon Chapman went 2-for-4 for Clark, which tied the game with a two-run top of the fourth inning and allowed the decisive run in the bottom of the fourth.