CheyAnne Simkins hopes to help teammates break through for elusive championship
AZTEC — The Aztec softball team might be the best in the state.
In MaxPreps' computer rankings, the Lady Tigers are ranked No. 1 in the state for all classifications and 66th in the nation. They've compiled a 17-3 record so far this season, only losing to programs from California by a combined five runs.
They're a complete team that has dominated on offense and defense, posting a plus-192 run differential this season. A big reason for the Lady Tigers' success has been CheyAnne Simkins.
The senior shortstop serves as the team's leadoff batter, hitting for average — .464 this season — and power, with seven home runs.
From the leadoff spot, Simkins is tasked with communicating opposing pitchers' strengths and weaknesses, telling her teammates what to look out for and what to exploit.
"She's one of the better hitters that I've ever had in any program I've been involved in," said Aztec coach Roy Johnson, who has three decades of coaching experience. "The best thing is she can read pitches. She can come back (to the dugout) and tell the girls what the pitcher has, and we adjust from there."
In Thursday's first game of a doubleheader at Farmington, Simkins blasted two home runs in the seventh inning, leading off the frame with a solo shot, then hitting a three-run homer to the opposite field on the way to a 17-0 victory.
But she's more than a big bat for Aztec. Acting as the team's No. 2 pitcher behind Paige Adair, she has compiled a 5-1 record with a 1.40 earned run average. In her last outing, the second game of the doubleheader with Farmington, Simkins struck out six of the nine batters she faced on the way to a 16-0 win.
"She'd be the No. 1 pitcher anywhere in the state besides Aztec," Johnson said. "She's really close to being (our No. 1 pitcher) right now. There's not a lot of difference between the two. With either one of those two, we feel like we can win, and not a lot of teams have that luxury."
With Farmington being Aztec's most recent victim, 12 of the Lady Tigers' 17 wins have come by 10 or more runs.
"It's probably a little bit intimidating for other teams," Simkins said of the Lady Tigers' dominance. "Honestly, we're probably the best team in the state. We're ranked No. 1 right now, and we come to practice every day and work hard. It's not just one person or two or three, it's the whole team."
But the dominant wins now don't mean much to the Lady Tigers.
Since last season's 1-0 loss to Centennial in the state title game, the team's fourth runner-up finish in five seasons, Aztec has been on a mission to return to the title game and bring the blue trophy back to Aztec for the first time since 2005.
"Overall, our goal is to take state, and it's been that way since I was an eighth-grader," Simkins said. "We look up at (the state title), but we have to make sure we get through district. That's our goal now, and if we win district, we can win state."
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.