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Camp Verde Softball Junior All Stars: STATE CHAMPS!
The Camp Verde Juniors All Star team
poses for a picture with the Arizona state championship banner after defeating Rio Rico twice Monday night in Prescott Valley. VVN/Sean Morris
7/24/2012 2:24:00 PM
By Sean Morris
PRESCOTT VALLEY - After losing last week for the first time this season, the Camp Verde junior softball All Stars came back to win the state tournament from the losers' bracket, finalizing the campaign with two wins over Rio Rico Monday evening, 3-2, and 14-4.
Taya Smith started the first game and gave up two runs in the first inning.
"The first inning was rough--I guess I was a little nervous--my dad went out there and told me if I didn't straighten it out Dusty would pitch. I told myself, 'I'm not getting pulled out,' and I snapped back into it and started pitching well," said Taya Smith, who eventually tallied 10 strikeouts in a nail biter.
Smith's rise ball fooled Rio Rico batters who went down swinging on pitches out of the zone. After the first inning, Smith showed no mercy.
"Learning that pitch wasn't hard for me because of the way I pitch, I kinda jump back in my wind up, but I think the reason we won is because we had the Lord and we all prayed. We asked him to guide us and he led us here," said Smith.
Down 2-1 in the sixth, Camp Verde loaded the bases and Dusty Dowdle hit a go ahead 2-run single. Camp Verde could have scored more, but Rio Rico ended the inning on the same play after the two runs scored, catching two Camp Verde base runners overanxious to advance.
At that point in the game Camp Verde and Taya Smith were cresting on a wave of momentum that a double play couldn't even slow down. They put the game away to force game two--a true winner-take-all championship.
Rio Rico's Emerald Grijalva started and pitched six innings in the first game--presumably she started all of Rio Rico's tournament games because the drop off in their backup was significant. Camp Verde lit her up and jumped out to a big lead.
In contrast, Camp Verde has pitching options. Dusty Dowdle pitched a masterful second game and the Camp Verde defense backed her up with few errors.
Going into the fifth inning, Camp Verde was up 14-1. CV had trouble getting the final out, but never felt that much pressure. They run-ruled Rio Rico to claim the state championship and the right to represent Arizona at regional play in Tucson.
"Before we started today we told our girls it was a 14-inning game. They never stopped; they tuned in, and that was especially important because the first game was really close. Our girls played like it was a 14-inning game. They stayed focused, on point, I'm very proud of them," said Camp Verde head coach Henry Smith.
Three years ago the team took third place at state. Last year they made it to the championship game undefeated, but lost two games to Sunnyside and took second. This year they lost in the second round and had to win five elimination games to take first place.
"These girls don't quit," said coach Smith. "If you told them to play another game right now, they'd do it."
Camp Verde rose to the occasion. A lot of players stepped up in the final games. One of those players is Danya Weir, who manufactured outs playing shortstop and made a huge impact at the plate.
"It feels great to play well, but this is a team sport. We played as a team and we kept our energy up for both games," said Weir.
Weir played varsity for CVHS as a freshman last year. She's excited to get the rest of her team playing high school ball next year.
"We'll have such a beast team in high school. We've been playing together for so long--we have a great connection. We're going all the way, I know it," said Weir.
Weir used to play catcher, but now she's the team's best option at shortstop. Plus Paige Church is playing phenomenal behind the plate.
"When I play catcher, I feel like I lead the team. I took Danya's spot and she took short. It just feels like the team gels better when I'm catching and she's at short," said Church. Church's goal is to play catcher on varsity and fill the Amy Allen void as a freshman next year. The way she's been playing, she could do it.
Henry Smith has coached his daughter's team for many years, so he knows the girls on the team very well. He knows how to play to their strengths athletically. He also knows the girls' personalities, furthering his ability to get the best out of them.
"I talked to Danya yesterday, and I told her she's always been a leader for us. She came out earlier in the tournament with just a little negativity, but I had a talk with her and told her to step up as a leader, and she came through for her team today. Defensively she made plays, and offensively she lit her bat up--she stepped up, but the whole team did. Marisol struggled a little bit in the beginning of the tournament, but she played phenomenal in these championship games. She did exactly what we asked. She was 5-7 today, which is amazing for a championship game. April Dodge--same thing. She was kinda iffy if she was going to play this year, but I told her if she played with us we'd have a good chance to win state and we couldn't do it without her. I'm glad I wasn't lying to her--it all came true. She gave up a wrestling trip to play with us and I'm glad we didn't let her down. Taya and Dusty--for girls this age to come out and dominate like they did--they didn't give anybody a chance," said Henry Smith.
Having several pitchers with quality stuff helps a lot when playing double headers. After the loss to Los Ninos, Dusty Dowdle made a promise her team would get it together and advance to the championship. She was right, and then some. The loss helped the team realize they needed to play better if they wanted the banner. It was their first loss of the Little League season. It showed them they have to bring intensity from the start against better teams in post-season play.
The best competition in the state generally comes from the Tucson area, and now the Camp Verde team is headed there to represent the whole state of Arizona. They'll play the best teams from the Southwest region. It will be tough, but they have a legitimate shot to win the tournament because softball is played at a high level in Arizona. Winning the AZ state banner means Camp Verde is elite.
"I think we have a good chance--I tell these girls, I think we're one of the best teams in the country. They play teams from California, they play teams from New Mexico, Nevada, they can hang. These girls have strong heart--they're so powerful it's unbelievable. I think we can hang with any team they bring. It doesn't matter who we face, our girls know the work it takes to win," said coach Smith.
If you would like to help the girls on their way to Tucson, and possibly beyond, contact Camp Verde Little League to make a donation: Coco Minner at 300-6765 and Bryan Pelfrey at 300-2852.
"I want to thank the whole town of Camp Verde because they showed up today. I've never heard them cheer for us like that--it was an amazing feeling and it feels great to know these girls can represent a town like they have, through sportsmanship and athleticism. I'd also like to thank our other coaches Raul and Matt. Raul did a great job calling pitches; he did it the whole tournament. We had very few runs scored on us through the tournament and a lot of that has to do with Raul. Of course the girls have to be able to execute the calls, but Raul made the right calls," said coach Smith.
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