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Yuma Catholic softball expects nothing less than a shot at another state title for school
Yuma's three 5A softball squads and 2A Yuma Catholic all reached the state playoffs last season, but Cibola, Kofa and Yuma will be hard-pressed to match that success playing in new regions this season.
Only Yuma Catholic, with several key faces back, appears to be in strong position to return to the postseason and make a run at the state championship.
Area squads San Luis, Antelope and San Pasqual, meanwhile, hope to be competitive and improve on last season's performance.
Yuma Catholic, the two-time 2A Desert West champion, reached the state quarterfinals the last two seasons and has loftier goals this season. Anything less than reaching the state finals really won't do.
"We must do better in postseason play," coach Charlie Dine said. "We know what to do in region. But we've got to get that toughness in competition to prepare for state. We haven't had that the last two years, so when we got to state, we got knocked out quickly."
Yuma Catholic, 21-5 last year, will play a rigorous non-region schedule that includes Parker twice, 4A San Luis, California schools Holtville and Imperial once apiece and Calexico twice. It will also compete in the Phoenix Country Day Invitational and host the Shamrock Classic.
Dine thinks the squad could be as strong as last year with senior third baseman Cassie Roman; and junior second baseman Alexis Araza returning. Each could be up for all-state honors this season.
Also back are two-year starter and junior first baseman Sara Badgley, sophomore shortstop Jenny Senini, and senior catcher Jennie Jackson. Jackson doubled as the No. 2 pitcher, going 9-0.
Dine also has two-time all-region pitcher Megan Van Horn, a junior, back to stymie hitters. She was 14-5year ago.
His squad is not without holes, however. Dine must find a backup catcher until Jennefer Terkelsen, who filled that role last year, recovers from a knee injury. He also must replace left fielder Adrianna Villalobos, who decided to specialize in basketball, and All-Region center fielder Tara Bauer, who will specialize in volleyball. Bauer's younger sister Nikki is a possibility to take over in center.
Cibola, which finished third in the Metro Region in 2003, is excited about playing in the 5A East Valley this year.
"We weren't ready for state last year," Cibola coach Shelly Baumann said. "We're in a tough league. Mountain View and Red Mountain are top teams that should help prepare us for state."
Top pitcher Evonne Corona, who excelled last season before serving a suspension, returns for her senior year. Baumann thinks Corona will be improved on the mound and at the plate.
Cibola can also count on fellow seniors Sierra Darnell (shortstop, pitcher), Gigi Eykamp (catcher), Mari Hernandez (right field) and Jamie Schnap (second base) to excel. Becca Sandoval, another senior and a utility player last year, will have a bigger role this year.
The rest of the lineup likely includes juniors Gaby Chim at first and Denise Ramirez at left field and sophomores Morgan Evans at center field and Ashley Teal at third. Sophomore Cindy McDowell and freshman Kathy Roman wield strong bats and should see time.
All these pieces must mesh as the season unfolds for the Raiders to return to state.
"We gotta put everything together," Baumann said. "There's so many things you have to cover ... the little things make the difference. If we do those, we can go to the next level."
Yuma went 23-5-1 last year, but matching that success will be hard to do without standout pitcher Christina Corona, who graduated, and against 5A Central Region foes, which includestate champion Tempe-Corona del Sol and state runner-up Tempe-Marcos de Niza.
But the Criminals have a good mix of youth and experience. The projected lineup includes two seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and a freshman.
"The starters are looking good," coach Evah Taylor said. "They've got a lot of potential."
Senior Tracy Wahl will become the No. 1 pitcher, with freshman Nicole Amaya to be her backup. Lisa Stratton, a junior and two-year starter, will play center and bat leadoff. Other top players include Leah Lopez-Gamez, who'll play right, and sophomore Jennette Clifton, who will catch. Junior Cassidey Counts, a reserve the last two years, is the new shortstop.
"We've got talent," Taylor said. "Our mental ability will determine how far we go."
Kofa, a region champion in 2003, will have it much tougher this season in the 5A Desert Valley Region using an almost entirely new squad because of graduation. Only two starters remain: senior outfielder Corey Strickland and sophomore catcher Rocky Kroll. The rest of the squad will be freshmen.
"We're replacing a lot," Kofa coach Emma Morrison said. "This is a rebuilding year ... Give them a couple of years, and we'll back to where we were. By midseason, we should be OK."
San Luis Sidewinders
First-year coach Tish Malone inherits a squad that struggled in the 4A Skyline Region and finished 3-16 last year. She hopes to steer the program in the right direction.
"It's about being competitive," Malone said. "As long as we are competitive, then good things will happen."
San Pasqual's top players include shortstop Stephanie Valencia, second baseman Kendra Lopez and third baseman Crystal Arbizo. Others back are center fielder Lisset Duarte and pitchers Michelle Barela and Zenyazen Urquides.
"Our infield is intact," Malone said. "If our left side holds up, our defense will be sound."
San Pasqual Warriors
The young Warriors are optimistic about the upcoming season.
"We're way ahead of schedule," San Pasqual coach Tina Flame said. "We've got about 25 girls out for the team. It's great to have the numbers. Yuma Catholic is the toughest in our region (2A Desert West), but we should be up to speed with everyone else."
San Pasqual's top players include seniors Kristy White at first and Nicole Montana at second; junior catcher Lynette Herrera and sophomore pitcher/shortstop Ashley Jefferson.
"We have a dynamic infield," Flame said. "We should be strong in defense and in hitting."
The Warriors face another challenge this season in playing their home games with a fence at their field. The past two seasons, the team has played with an open outfield.
"It's a big adjustment," Flame said. "It will take getting used to."
Like San Pasqual, Antelope has new leadership in coach Tammy Newell. Newell, who takes over for Janet Hill, was the junior varsity coach last year. She will be assisted by Mike Jorajuria, Antelope's JV boys baseball coach two years ago.
Newell inherits a squad that only won a few games last year and lost of most of its players to graduation. Only six have returned, including three starters: juniors Ashley Sanchez at shortstop and Rachel Carpena at catcher and sophomore Karmina Frausto at second base. The others are junior Candace Killman, who may catch this year if Carpena moves to the mound; sophomore Malory Sandoval, who may play third base; and senior Samantha McDaniel, who hopes to take over in left field.
"Our infield was our strength last year and we should be solid up the middle," Newell said. "Our pitching was our weakness. We must find a good pitcher-catcher combination."
The rest of the Rams' squad will be very inexperienced. The good news is Antelope won't play its first game until March 9, which gives Newell time to fill in the holes.
"We're looking for skills, to fine-tune everything," Newell said.
Nick Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 782-6520.