'Best feeling in the world'

Lady Chieftains reach 2nd round of state softball tournament

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

RIO RANCHO, May 17, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Shiprock Lady Chieftains Bryena Rockwell limbers up May 10 during the Class 3A tournament game against the Silver in Rio Rancho. Shiprock was knocked out, 12-1.

SECOND FROM THE TOP: Shiprock's Ashley John prepares for the play May 10 during the state tournament game against the Silver Fighting Colts in Rio Rancho, NM.

I t's been a long road back for the Shiprock softball team.

Since the introduction of the five-class system in 2001, the Chieftains were regulars to the New Mexico state softball tournament.

And for about five years they were legitimate contenders as the program made two appearances in the state championship game in 2001 and 2004.

But since then, according to current Shiprock coach Levi Toledo, they made the playoffs only three times in the last six years.

Two of those berths were anticlimactic since they were bounced out of the tournament in the first round.

But this year's group prolonged their stay as the No. 7-seeded Chieftains opened the Class 3A tournament with a 10-8 win over Santa Fe St. Michael's on May 5.

"That was the best feeling in the world," said Shiprock first baseman Adrianna Toledo, who helped secure that win by bringing two runners home. "I was really nervous but I knew I had to pull it out for my team."

With that, Shiprock moved into last Thursday's second round, which was played at Rio Rancho's Cleveland High. The Chieftains played two games before they were eliminated, losing to Silver City (12-1) and Raton (6-2) to end their season at 12-8.

"Last year we made it into the tournament and lost our first game," Toledo said. "But this year the girls just stepped it up and made it a lot farther than what the program has done in the last six years."

The second year-coach credited his five seniors - Keiona Aspaas, Thessalonia Lewis, Breyena Rockwell, Cheyenna Dee and Savannah Horse - for help setting that new standard.

"I am proud of all the girls that played for me, especially the seniors," Toledo said. "They were the ones who motivated this team through every practice and every game."

And to some degree, they were the ones who provided solace to the team as they bowed out of the tournament on a tough note.

With bases loaded and the tying run at the plate, the Chieftains saw their season come to an end when Raton shortstop Alyssa Eggebrecht scooped up a groundball and made the play at the third for the final out.

"I wished our season could have gone a little longer," said Rockwell, the team's ace pitcher. "But my senior year has been amazing. I've been playing since my eighth grade year and it was amazing to see this team grow."

Besides Rockwell, Toledo said he'll be graduating some key players but he expects next year's team to be just as good.

"I have a lot of sophomores and freshmen so we should be decent for the next few years," he said. "And as long as the girls play summer ball we can get back to those days when we made the (state) finals."

Yet there is no telling how far they could have gone had they played enough games this year. According to Toledo, the Chieftains came into the tournament with only 17 regular season games under their belt, nine under the limit that the New Mexico Activity Association allows.

"We needed to play more games," he said, "but some of our games got cancelled because of the weather."

Their first tournament of the year was snowed out.

"That one really hurt us because it was four games that we couldn't make up," Toledo said of the Linda Crabtree Invitational, a tournament hosted by seven-time state champion Piedra Vista.

Toledo said playing a tough field like the Crabtree tournament would have paid dividends because he felt that they matched up well with both Silver and Raton.

"That's like playing a state tournament game," he said. "It was all against (Class) 4A teams and I think it would have helped us here at state."

Asked what contributed to the two losses, he said they were undisciplined at the plate.

"We've made improvements with our batting but we were trying to hit the high balls," Toledo said. "It's what killed us."

Nonetheless, the Shiprock coach left the Cleveland softball field feeling content with what's to come.

"They got a taste of this," he said. "We'll be back next year a little more hungry."

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