FARMINGTON — A season ago, Naa'taanii came as close as it ever has to hosting the Connie Mack World Series.
Just three outs stood between the team and the automatic series bid before Strike Zone scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to snatch a 3-2 victory.
This year, Naa'taanii — a team out of Gallup, Kirtland and Albuquerque — returns refocused and with the same goal of earning that elusive first CMWS appearance.
"I think the mindset is to just take it one game at a time and one pitch at a time, because it is such a short season," head coach Dineh Benally said. "We just need to stay confident and play within our strengths. We can't worry about what happened last year. We have to focus on the future. We'll use the games we have now and the tournaments we have coming up to be ready for July and hopefully we'll be hosting the world series."
Benally had a hole in his coaching staff to fill after Tim Campos left to take a job at Doane College in Crete, Neb., this past season.
Benally will get help from Navajo Prep head coach Bobby Byrd this year as well as James Cordova (not FABC Connie Mack Division Vice President James Cordova) who runs the Naa'taanii South Valley facility in Albuquerque.
"(Bobby) is very experienced and been in this community his whole life and been to the world series as a player. We'll lean on his experience," Benally said. "I'm excited to have him on our staff. Losing Campos is hard, but we still have some good people on staff."
Benally expects to have a few players back from last season's team, including 2013 Aztec graduate Tyson Curley, and Carlsbad's Caleb Prentiss and Broc Landreth.
The Naa'taanii coach said the key will be how the returning players mesh with new players from the Four Corners like Shiprock's Abraham Hobson and Navajo Prep's Alex Danzuka along with the other kids the team imports from across the state.
"We've filled up with young talent. So far, I like what I'm seeing. They seem to be getting along, especially in the dugout and that's very important. They seem like they're bonding early," Benally said. "I think it will be another three-way race with us, Strike Zone and 4-Corners. It'll probably come down to who brings in some strong imports, but I think we'll be fine."