FARMINGTON — The softball season has been full of ups and downs for Piedra Vista, but the Lady Panthers have found some consistency at the top of the order this year.
Leadoff hitter Danielle Ortiz has sparked the PV offense all season, including Friday when she went 4-for-7 at the plate and scored two runs in wins over 5A foes Cibola and La Cueva.
Ortiz's performance as the leadoff hitter in PV's lineup has matched that of any other player in the state the past couple of seasons and she said she's comfortable in that role.
"I'm just kind of used to it. I get up there and don't think about too much in the box," she said.
Ortiz leads PV in runs, hits, stolen bases and triples this season while batting a team-high .413 at the plate.
PV head coach Kevin Werth said Ortiz sets the tone for his team early in games.
"She's got a lot of experience there," Werth said. "Like any leadoff hitter, she's our sparkplug. She sets the table for the other girls behind her and provides that speed on the bases."
After helping PV win an eighth-straight state title and being named a first-team all-state outfielder a season ago, Ortiz came into her senior season knowing she'd need to take on an added leadership role for the Lady Panthers this year.
"I'm just trying to keep the team positive," she said. "We just need to keep going after we get down."
Werth said Ortiz's ability to help the younger players on the team has been the most impressive aspect of her game this season.
"Her leadership is one of the things I'm most proud of her for," Werth said. "We've had our share of losses this year to really good teams, and she's helped maintain the positive attitude and kept everyone focused on the bigger picture."
The Lady Panthers will begin district play on Friday as the No. 2 team in 4A, according to the MaxPreps rankings, behind their rival Aztec despite an 11-8 record.
Currently 10 teams in 4A have a better winning percentage than PV, but the Lady Panthers have the top strength of schedule in the state regardless of classification, according to the rankings, and are 5-0 against 4A opponents this season.
Despite having more losses at this point in the year than in any of the eight previous title seasons, Ortiz believes the difficult path PV has travelled will only help them come state tournament time in May.
"We just know that something good is in store for us," she said. "The process is good and the outcome will be even better. We just need to play our hardest."