Emma Garbutt went 3 for 4 with a double and an RBI as Empire defeated Yuma Catholic 10-2 in the 3A state softball championship.

Ask any coach, and they’ll more than likely give you a canned response about how rankings aren’t important and they hardly pay attention to them.

For Tucson Empire softball coach Shannon Woolridge, he didn’t have to make any comments about his team’s No. 12 ranking in the postgame interviews. Instead, the Empire bats did all the talking in the 10-2 victory over No. 2 Yuma Catholic in the Conference 3A state title game Tuesday at Farrington Stadium in Tempe.

Led by Emma Garbutt, who went 3 for 4 with a double and an RBI, Empire (26-9-1) pounded out 11 hits and forced two errors en route to its second title in three years.

“We kept getting ranked differently throughout the season,” Garbutt said. “It wasn’t even about what we were ranked. We knew we were better than all those teams, and it was just going out there and doing what we had to do.”

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What they did was attack – early and often.

After Yuma Catholic (18-8-1) opened the scoring with a run off an error in the second inning, the Empire bats suddenly came to life in the top of the third. Garbutt tied the game with a double to right before coming in to score on Jadyn Duncan’s safety squeeze. Celine Pacheco then capped off the four-run third with a two-out RBI double to left, giving Empire a 4-1 lead.

“What I think helps is that there were eight girls on this team that were on the championship team (in 2015),” Woolridge said. “Now a lot of them weren’t starters, but I think just the fact that they had already experienced a championship run and they had a sense of what it would take to get here.”

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That experience certainly paid off. After getting out of a jam with runners on second and third in the bottom of the fourth, junior pitcher Jaden Romero wiggled out of a one-out jam with runners on the corners in the fifth to preserve the 4-1 lead.

“If it’s not defense, it’s offense – if it’s not offense, it’s defense,” Yuma Catholic coach Madison Miller said. “Today we had a little bit of both. The errors on both end just didn’t help get us where we wanted to be.”

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Empire continued to pour it on in the sixth, as Pacheco doubled to get things started. Three straight singles expanded the lead to 6-1 before a two-out error plated two more runs to give Empire an 8-1 lead.

“I watched film on them, and they didn’t surprise me on the hitting,” Miller said. “They came out swinging today.”

Even though Woolridge may not put a lot of stock in the rankings, he and his players are hoping that winning a second title in three years will help change how his team is perceived next year when it comes to the seeding.

“We always feel like we have the players to go on a good run,” Woolridge said. “Obviously a lot of things had to happen, but this is pretty phenomenal.”


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