FARMINGTON – Last season was the first time since 2001 that Aztec, Farmington or Piedra Vista didn’t return from the state softball tournament with a blue trophy. So with the 2016 season beginning this week, the three programs are ready for a return to glory.
Aztec and Farmington both enter the season with a new coach at the helm. Roy Johnson is taking over at Aztec, and Tim Trotter is leading the way at Farmington.
After suffering a controversial 6-5 loss to Centennial in extra innings during the semifinal last year, in which the final out of the game came after the umpire ruled that Aztec’s Ashlyn Bradley did not touch home plate, the Lady Tigers are hungry for redemption.
“That left a pretty bad taste in our mouth,” said Johnson, who spent the last four seasons as an assistant at Aztec. “You hate to work hard all year and have it taken away from you on a judgment call. It was hard for us, but we’re looking forward to a new year.”
Aztec lists just one senior on this season’s roster, but will return plenty of experience after losing just three players to graduation.
Juniors Paige Adair and CheyAnn Simkins return to the Lady Tigers after earning second team All-State honors in their sophomore campaigns.
With Adair and Simkins serving as the team’s primary pitchers, Johnson said one of the main points of focus this season will be solidifying the defense behind them.
“We’re working really hard this year on just playing catch. This game is all about playing catch and believing in who you’re throwing it to and who’s throwing it to you,” Johnson said. “We’re taking a lot a pride in our defense. That’s probably the biggest thing we need to work on, being a strong defensive team and not just a strong offensive team.”
After winning nine straight state titles, PV came up short in 2015. Now, the Lady Panthers are ready for a return to the top.
PV returns the bulk of last year’s roster, including seven seniors who will give the Lady Panthers valuable experience entering the season.
“We hope their experience pays dividends,” PV head coach Kevin Werth said of the senior class. “They’ve been at it for a while, and we’ll just have to see how far it carries us. Obviously, we still have to go out there and perform.”
Among those seniors will be Autumn Begay, who earned first team All-State honors last year at second base, Haley Parson, who led the team with 38 runs batted in, and Tyra Garcia, who finished 2015 with a .425 batting average.
The Lady Panthers spent last weekend in Albuquerque for scrimmages with Los Lunas, Hobbs and Atrisco Heritage Academy. Werth said he saw a lot of good things during the weekend, but also found some issues the team will need to address, including finding the right lineup.
“We have things we need to work on, and we’re looking at kids playing at different positions to fill what we need to replace,” Werth said. “It’s going to be different for some kids, and we just hope they can handle playing at this level and the pressure that comes with playing in this program.”
Farmington will also return the majority of its roster after losing just four players to graduation.
Back to help lead the Lady Scorps will be senior KK Blackwood. In her junior year, Blackwood, a lefty, batted .505 as the team's leadoff batter.
After finishing last season fourth in District 1-5A, the Lady Scorps were awarded the No. 11 seed in the state tournament and went on to beat No. 6 Los Lunas and No. 7 Bernalillo in the tournament.
Farmington head coach Tim Trotter could not be reached for comment.
Aztec and PV will begin their regular-season schedules at PV’s Linda Crabtree Softball Challenge Friday and Saturday at the Farmington Sports Complex.
Farmington will open its season with a doubleheader against Valley in Albuquerque on Saturday.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.