AZTEC — The Aztec softball team is off to a nearly perfect start this season and the pitching of Angela Minjarez has been a major factor in the Lady Tigers' success.

Minjarez is 10-1 this season with a 1.49 ERA for Aztec to put the Lady Tigers at the top of the coaches' and MaxPreps' 4A rankings.

"She's been here for five years, so she's probably the most important cog," Aztec head coach Jose Santistevan said. "To have her doing her job is definitely a big help.

The senior is coming off her best performance of the season, a no-hitter against EspaƱola Valley to push Aztec to 17-1 this season.

"We've done a lot better than I've expected," Minjarez said.

Coming into the season, Santistevan expected the pitching of Minjarez and Hailey Morris to carry the team early in the year until some of the younger hitters began to figure out varsity pitching. But the freshmen have hit better than expected, and that's helped the Tigers reach the top of the rankings.

"It's been a big surprise. When you've got all those freshmen hitting .300 or .400, we didn't expect that at all," Santistevan said.

The added hitting should take some of the pressure off of Minjarez and the other pitchers, but Santistevan said the senior still looks for perfection every time she starts.

"I don't think pitchers ever think the pressure is off their shoulders," Santistevan said. "I'm sure it has helped her a little bit, but she still thinks she has to pitch a perfect game."

Aztec suffered its lone loss to 5A No. 1 Rio Rancho in the final of Kristen Griego tournament on March 29.

After playing five games in two days in the tournament, Aztec ran out of gas in the final, but Minjarez believes that experience will be important — especially for the younger players — at the state tournament in May.

"That tournament brought back a lot of memories from state," she said. "We played some good teams in close games, and I think we're ready."

Before state, the Lady Tigers still have to get past Piedra Vista, which has won the past eight 4A championships, in district play.

Despite an inconsistent start to the season, PV is still ranked No. 3 in 4A, despite a 9-8 record.

The Aztec players and coaches know that to win the championship, they'll have to get past the PV hurdle, and Santistevan expects Minjarez to play a big role against the district rivals.

"She's our horse, and we're going to ride her until the end," he said. "She's a senior, and this is her last hoorah, so we're going to jump on our back and see how far she takes us."

Joshua Perry covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and jperry@daily-times.com. Follow him @jperrysuu on Twitter.