The lack of a true 2020 softball season as the coronavirus first swept through the state has led to a dearth of players with big time playoff experience as the 2021 postseason begins.
Not McKenna "Bub" Feringa. The Cactus senior started the 4A state title game in the circle and as the cleanup hitter in her freshman and sophomore seasons.
While both games ended in agonizing losses to Tucson Salpointe Catholic, Feringa's dominant trait as a pitcher kept the Cobras in the 2018 and 2019 finals. Cactus coach Batt Underwood said Feringa isn't an overpowering force, but finds an extra gear with runners in scoring position.
“I don’t think Bub is my version of a dominant pitcher. That’s winning the game and having double-digit strikeouts every game. Morgan Montemayor or Lauren Haeger, girls that have big fastballs,” Underwood said. “Bub seems to throw her best in hitter’s spots and when her back is against the wall.”
That's not surprising, since Bub is the youngest member of what is the truest definition of a softball family. The Feringa name has been a part of Cactus softball's winning tradition for more than 35 years.
Bub's mother, Beth, played for Jeff Griffith's first of six Cactus state title teams in 1987. By the time Doug and Beth Feringa's older daughter, Briley, was ready for high school Underwood had moved from Centennial to Cactus as coach and Griffith had returned as his assistant.
“We were always doing something, whether it was playing in the outfield at my sister’s games or working with my sister at home. We were always around softball,” Bub Feringa said.
In 2016, Cactus softball made its first state final in 10 years. Briley Feringa was a senior and team captain and her seventh-grade baby sister had one of the best seats at Farrington Stadium in Tempe.
“I was sitting at the front row in state (in 2016). It was fun to see all of them because I know a couple of them like Tatumn (Porras), Paulla (Yenkevich) and my sister. They all went to the same elementary school I did. I would come here and watch them do their thing,” Bub Feringa said. “A lot of them paved the way for us to keep the traditions going.”
By that point Underwood was well aware of the youngest Feringa's hitting. He coached coached Briley in club ball and met Bub.
“I take the job here then Briley decides to come here. One day Briley is out there playing catch with Bub. I said, ‘Hey, she can take some ground balls over here.’ She was a sixth grader I think,” Underwood said. “One day Doug asked if Bub could hit with me and I said sure. As a sixth grader she hit two of them out of here.”
Three years later, Bub was a freshman and a legitimate candidate for state player of the year, batting .467 with five home runs and 39 RBI and earning the No. 1 starter role with a 14-2 record and 1.24 ERA.
She faced much more adversity during the playoffs of her sophomore season in 2019 and emerged stronger.
In the double elimination round, Tucson Canyon del Oro pummeled Cactus 15-3 for Feringa's first loss of the season. To return to the 4A finals, the Cobras would have to beat the Dorados twice on the same day.
Cactus won both games going away, 9-3 and 7-2, and Feringa made every pitch of the doubleheader.
“She’s a workhorse. She pitched both games against CDO that day. She threw really hard. And after the first game was over, she didn’t even wait for me to ask. She said, ‘I want the ball,’” Underwood said.
Then came another trying final with Salpointe, this time in Tucson.
The crew at that game called Feringa for six illegal pitches in the early innings as the Lancers built a 3-0 lead. But she fought through it and pitched all of an extra inning 6-5 loss.
“I told Bub, ‘You haven’t been called for an illegal pitch in your life, and all of a sudden that’s the impetus. I don’t want you to get upset, just nod your head and tell yourself to make a better pitch.’ It’s almost like you threw a ball. Just pitch,” Underwood said. “I wasn’t going to tell her to do anything different. I think they called maybe one or two more and that was it. That back against the wall mentality is great.”
Though Cactus lost Alynah Torres, the top hitter in the state, to graduation, in 2019 the Cobras had six seniors coming back for another run in 2020 - plus third-year starters in Feringa and Hannah DiFabio.
That team only got to play seven games.
“That was kind of tough because all of those seniors ended up going to college to play softball. It would have been super fun to play with them one more year and I think we could have done big things too,” Feringa said.
By contrast, this year's team entered the year very inexperienced other than Feringa, DiFabio and juniors Tanya Windle and Janessa Escobar.
Underwood said he has seen Seen this team really improve. Nerves were a problem with catching fly balls early, and he empjasized the newcomers just had to do the same things she does in practice.
“I pulled all my veterans aside and told them they have to be more than players this year. They have to be player-coaches. I know they’re good teammates. They have to hear it from you guys too,” Underwood said.
In the second half of the season another junior with experience, Angelica Tello moved from third base to the outfield. Windle started at second, switched to the outfield and then switched with Tello, taking over third base.
Feringa said it's fun to see Cactus' sophomores grow in the game, as the team ended the season on an eight-game winning streak to go 16-3. She is more talkative this year.
“These past couple games we’ve all been clicking. They’ve all been team wins lately. We want the best for everybody and it’s really starting to flow,” Feringa said.
While more known as a pitcher, the Cobras' offense flows from Feringa. Her .657 average, 16 doubles and 34 RBI lead Cactus and hr four home runs are second to Windle's six.
“Before the Mingus game she was hitting .656 for the season. People will say, ‘look at the schedule you played.’ We had Perry, Sunnyslope, Willow Canyon and Red Mountain so I don’t want to hear that. She’s better at taking what they’re giving her. I don’t know how many balls she’s hit off the wall in left. She’s leading our team in doubles, and she’s not the fastest,” Underwood said.
Feringa committed to Division I Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia in her sophomore year of high school.
She said she may study sports management
“She’s got a good group over there. They’ve very supportive of the girls and it’s a good family atmosphere. The school is a big, fun community,” Feringa said.