Winslow girls, Holbrook boys embrace tougher competition in new alignment
By Candace Begody
WINDOW ROCK, March 22, 2012
(Times photo - Paul Natonabah)
While some coaches have already counted their teams out of the running for a state playoff run, some welcome the competition.
Take the Winslow Lady Bulldogs and the Holbrook Roadrunners for example. Both were the only teams to go deep into last year's state softball and baseball tournaments.
Winslow Lady Bulldogs
Last year, the Lady Bulldogs went 31-6 and were undefeated in the 3A North conference, going 8-0. They entered the 3A state tournament as the No. 1 seed but fell to No. 2 Fountain Hills in the championship game.
Then in 2010, the team went 34-2 and 17-0 in conference to claim the 3A state title, defeating Estrella Foothills in the championship game.
So there is no doubt that Winslow head coach Becky Barris has built one of the strongest softball programs in Arizona.
Of the realignment, Barris said, "I really like our new scheduling. It has made our regular season schedule much stronger in that we play Flagstaff and Coconino twice as well as many of the east schools."
Currently, the Lady Bulldogs aren't showing signs of weakness even in the new division, as they own an overall record of 8-2 and are 3-0 in Division III.
Both their losses came at the hands of Show Low and Snowflake during the Gracie Haught Invitational last weekend in Payson, Ariz.
"Our goals for the season are to finish number one in our section and to return to the state championship game for a fourth year in a row," Barris said. "There are some tough new teams in our division including Mingus, Benson, Bourgade Catholic and Wilcox."
To prepare for the added competition, Barris said her team is scheduled to play at a tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., in early April, which will include quality teams from California, Nevada and Utah.
Leading the Lady Bulldogs is a returning talented and experienced pitching staff including sophomore Halle Hayes, senior Kelley Pugh, sophomore Taylor Baba and freshman Richelyn Villanueva.
MaxPreps has Hayes ranked No. 2 for her .724 batting average. Pugh has already signed with Mesa Community College. Teammate Karley Gilbert has also signed with Scottsdale Community College and Arianna Huerta has signed to play with the College of Southern Idaho.
"This year's team is different from last year in that we don't have as much speed but we do have some very strong hitters," Barris said. "We are struggling at the plate a bit right now and we hope to get that figured out over the next few weeks."
Last year, the Roadrunners entered the state baseball tournament as the No. 10 seed. In the semifinal game, they lost to No. 5 Estrella Foothills, the eventual state runner-up.
They went 18-9 overall and 7-2 within their league.
As far as the realignment goes, Holbrook head coach Jim Stevens said, "The realignment has given us new challenging competition this year. Regardless of who we play, we strive to be the best we can and compete with every team."
The Roadrunners currently own an overall record of 4-7 and are 1-2 in Division III. They currently have wins against Round Valley, St. Johns, Joseph City, and Mogollon. Their two losses were to Winslow and Flagstaff.
"So far our team is improving," Stevens said. "We started off the season with many players missing due to basketball going so far into the postseason and other overlapping extracurricular activities.
"But we expect our team to be peaking and be the most competitive at the end of the season," he added. "Many factors contribute to how the postseason turns out, but we expect to compete with every team and win by the beginning of the postseason."
The Roadrunners return key seniors including Javier Quintana, Ryan Baldonado, Levi Reyes, and Robert Jaquez. Also returning to the lineup is junior Jesse Spangler.
"This year's team is smaller, but more cohesive than last year's team," said Stevens. "Each player knows his role and the expectations of his position. They respond positively to adversity and come together under stress.
"Our coaching staff is very proud of the gains made by our players in such a short time this season," he added, "and we look forward to the continued improvement and potential of this great group of young men."