Aztec, PV ready for 5A state title run
FARMINGTON – It has been more than a decade since the Aztec softball team was the No. 1 seed for the state tournament, but this year's edition of the Lady Tigers has worked hard to earn the top spot.
This season, Aztec piled up the second-most runs scored while allowing the fewest runs in the state for a run differential of plus-242. The next-best mark is No. 7 Bernalillo at plus-196.
In the opening round of the tournament today, the Lady Tigers will welcome No. 16 Del Norte (9-15), which is returning to the state tourney field after missing last year.
“They (Del Norte) have a decent pitcher, but they struggle to score against good pitching,” Aztec head coach Roy Johnson said. “I don’t know a lot about them other than they are the (No.) 16 seed. If you don’t beat them, you don’t get to advance. I know that much.”
The Lady Knights’ struggles against good pitching should give Aztec a significant advantage after pitchers Paige Adair and CheyAnne Simkins combined to hold opponents to a .175 batting average.
After winning nine consecutive state titles, Piedra Vista saw its streak come to an end last season.
Piedra Vista (17-8) again has a high seed in the state tourney, coming in at No. 4, and will host No. 13 Lovington (11-15) for the first challenge in the Lady Panthers’ quest to return to the pinnacle of the sport.
“We’ve been able watch them a few times and get some tape on them. I don’t think their record reflects what they’re capable of doing. They’ve had a lot of close games and played Roswell to one run, and they’re the No. 3 seed. Even though they’re a 13 seed, they’re capable of doing a lot of damage.”
Werth said he’s been very happy with how his team has looked during the last few days of preparation.
Both Johnson and Werth emphasized the importance of not looking past their first-round opponents, knowing that a mistake at the wrong time could be the difference between advancing in the tournament or ending the season.
“You can’t go out and be flat or take anyone for granted. If you don’t go out and play with the intensity that you should, you’re opening a chance to not have a successful run at the state title. The girls need to be aware that each game is important.”
Bloomfield, Shiprock meet again
The Lady Bobcats (20-6) got the No. 4 seed in this year's 4A state tournament and will play No. 13 Shiprock (12-12) for the third time this season.
Bloomfield has owned Shiprock this decade with 12 straight victories dating back to the 2011 season, including a 20-0 drubbing in the first round of last season's playoffs. After graduating five key seniors last year, it took a few weeks for the Bobcat roster to gel, but the team has done just that in earning only one fewer regular-season win than it earned last year.
The Lady Bobcats likely will face Shiprock starter Shelbie Little, who has compiled a 3.24 earned run average this year while starting almost half her team's games. Bloomfield coach Andi Clark said she's not expecting an offensive letdown from her squad.
"We've been doing a lot of hitting this week, a lot of driving the ball," Clark said. "(Little's) a good pitcher. As long as we stay disciplined at the plate, I think we can get to her."
Bloomfield beat Shiprock by a combined score of 26-5 when the District 1-4A rivals locked up in an April 14 doubleheader. The first pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at the Bloomfield Softball Complex.
Under first-year coach Cody Gilmore, the Lady Broncos picked up eight more wins than they had in 2015, and for that, they were seeded eighth in the tourney.
Kirtland Central will host No. 9 West Las Vegas (10-13) in a one-and-done first-round matchup. The teams played no common opponents this season, which is why Gilmore said he made the trip to Las Vegas to scout both the Lady Dons and No. 1 Robertson earlier this spring.
"We learned a little bit about their starting pitchers, their defensive alignment and their batting order," Gilmore said of WLV. "Just some things you can't get out of a score book."
KC won 13 straight regular-season games before being swept by Bloomfield in an April 28 doubleheader for the district crown. The Lady Broncos narrowly lost the first game in that set when Bloomfield's Mattie Waresback slugged a three-run, walk-off homer to steal the game 8-6.
WLV and KC play at noon Saturday at Kirtland Central High School.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.