The braided blond ponytail that hung to her waist swung slightly every time she rocketed her right arm forward. The ball sliced through the unusually cool May evening, dipping and rising, saying, in its own silent language, “You can’t hit me.”
Phoenix Pinnacle’s Marissa Schuld had put together a perfect season before Monday’s 6A Conference state championship game against Chandler Hamilton. She was 22-0 with a 0.56 ERA and 241 strikeouts in 125 innings.
But none of it would matter if Pinnacle didn’t win these final seven innings. One year ago, Hamilton beat Pinnacle and Schuld 3-0 to win the state championship. Losing two years in a row, to the same team, after going 22-0 … it was unthinkable.
And then the unthinkable happened. Schuld, a junior who’s committed to the University of Arizona, gave up five runs – just five less than she had allowed all season. She was switched to left field in the sixth inning and when reliever CC Cook gave up a two-run homer that flew over her head – the final runs in Hamilton’s 7-2 victory – Schuld just bent over and placed her hands on her knees.
Imagine: 22-1 and that one will be remembered far more than the 22.
“I think she’s the best pitcher in the state,” Pinnacle coach Bobby Pena said. “She made a couple of mistakes today that they capitalized on. But what she meant for us for the season was everything … She just seems to dominate most every single game.”
I asked Pena, somewhat reluctantly, if it would be OK to talk to Schuld. Part of me wanted to leave her alone. The other part wanted to ask how Hamilton got to her. Schuld came out of the dugout, her lips tight, and graciously answered a couple of questions.
“Maybe we can make a run next year again,” she said.
On the other side of the field Hamilton coach Rocky Parra wasn’t surprised a bit by Hamilton’s offensive explosion. Hamilton came into the game hitting .426 as a team. As far as Parra is concerned, it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound, even if that pitcher is 22-0.
“We’ve been able to hit her,” Parra said. “Every time we’ve played her we’ve gotten two or three runs. My lineup … it’s a college lineup. I wouldn’t want to pitch to our lineup. That’s how scary it is.”
Schuld will be back next season. But so will most of Hamilton’s lineup. No one will be surprised if the two teams meet a third straight time for the 6A title.
Will it finally be Schuld’s night?
For Pinnacle – and its star pitcher – that question must seem like it will take a lifetime to answer.