First published in the March 26 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
By Nathan Cambridge
When Glendale High and Hoover meet on the softball diamond, both programs readily admit facing their crosstown rival is simply more important than the rest of the games on the schedule.
This season the Nitros and Tornados got the three-game season series started with a matchup on the Nitros’ home turf.
It was a close contest in the early stages, but Glendale pulled away to secure an 11-5 victory over visiting Hoover in Pacific League action Thursday afternoon.
“We overcame the mistakes that we made early and just stuck with it, kept the pressure on and never let up, so it is a solid win,” Glendale coach Jack Monroe said.
The contest was tied at 5-5 in the bottom of the fourth inning. The first three Nitros reached base via a Tornado error and infield singles by Patty Ramos and Lesly Escobar, respectively. Hoover pitcher Evelyn Ortiz struck out the next Nitro batter to bring up Jazmin Combs, who hit a sacrifice fly to bring home Yara Shoora from third for what turned out to be the winning run.
It was a unique experience for Glendale’s Desiree Guzman, who was on the other side of the rivalry last season.
“I just transferred from Hoover, so it’s an amazing experience to beat them,” Guzman said. “[After] switching [to Glendale] I fell in love with these girls and the coach. It was just amazing. I’ve had to get into my groove, but I finally did.”
Guzman doubled the advantage in the bottom of the fifth inning after Nitro hurler Natalie Minkler set the Tornados down in order in the top of the frame. The junior smashed a long fly ball over Hoover’s left fielder, allowing her to circle the bases for a home run against her former team. Monroe had called for a bunt but Guzman, who was just recently cleared to play after sitting out the transfer period, missed the sign.
“I’m new to the team, so I don’t know the signs,” Guzman said.
The hosts blew the game open in the bottom of the sixth with four runs, all of which came with two outs. The first was driven in by Christine Raj with a single. The next one was on a steal of home by Angie Leos. Guzman drove in the third with a triple blasted to left field. She then scored the final run, sliding into home on a wild pitch.
Meanwhile, Minkler went the distance in the circle for the win, striking out four. The freshman also fielded her position exceptionally, including snagging a line drive in the fourth inning and doubling off a Hoover runner before she could get back to the bag at first to end the frame.
“She was on today [and she is] a good defensive pitcher,” Monroe said of the freshman.
Ortiz pitched all six innings for the visitors. The freshman struck out six.
“She is going to be a beast when she is a junior and a senior. She’s very, very coachable with great intelligence, “Hoover coach Rich Henning said of his ace. “She understands that this year is going to be a learning experience. She’s going to get hammered, and she’s found that out the hard way, but she keeps coming back and asking for more and trying to make herself better. You’ve got to love that.”
Both squads put up three runs in the first inning. All three of Hoover’s runs in the top of the inning came on Nitro fielding errors and were scored by Rima Qasim, Paola Cano and Kiahana Montano. In the bottom of the stanza, the Nitros scored on a Hoover error and then on a two-run single by Minkler.
The teams also matched each other in the second inning, this time scoring two apiece. In their half, the Tornados strung together four singles, including hits by Qasim and Amy Ramos.
In the bottom of the inning Glendale’s Patty Ramos had an RBI on a single that rocketed off the bag at third base. The next run was scored on a double steal.
The teams will play twice more this season, so the series has just begun.
“We lost both [against Hoover] last year, which apparently in Glendale lore was a big no-no, so we will not be satisfied with anything but all three,” Monroe said.