|Senior Kaitlynn Lewis slaps a ball during a 2013 game against Coconino. VVN/Travis Guy|
This time last year, the Mingus Union softball was 3-6 after participating in the Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City and playing four non-tournament games.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the Marauders are in an eerily similar situation with a 1-6 record following the Tournament of Champions. There are a few differences from 2013 to 2014, namely 2014's starters were not starters in 2013. This has led to players being thrust into a leadership role and being forced to learn on the fly.
"It's really a lot of that," said head coach John Brown. "The leadership of this program is new to leadership, because they weren't that kid last year. They were the kids that didn't play a lot last year, now they're the leaders and it's a hard transition for them. But they're coming around and they're getting it, I can see that in heir conversations. I know that that's a huge part of it, but I know we're going to overcome it."
But that is also the purpose of the Tournament of Champions and the Las Vegas tournament that Brown takes his team to. In the vein of "iron sharpens iron," Brown takes his team to some of the best tournaments in the West. Not for a trophy (even though that would be an added bonus) but for the experience. It has been touched on before about how Brown schedules his tournaments (with the same mentality of girls soccer coach Buddy Rhodes, tournament games do not count in the grand scheme of power points.), but with a group of girls still learning how to be leaders and bring along the younger girls, it is beginning to wear on the team.
"If I'm frank and honest, it's more or less a moral issue," Brown said. "Obviously at Mohave, they call it Tournament of Champions for a reason. There's high, high end, high caliber, high-population schools that are there, they play to win and they play hard ... the idea behind it is to learn from it. Unfortunately, sometimes losing brings moral down and then it continues to spiral down.
"But in my opinion that has an importance on building a winning program as well. They have to learn how to lose before they can learn how to win. Not that I want them to lose, but the idea is its how you deal with that loss. We're going to go to Vegas later in the season; it's going to be the same way it was last year. We went to both these tournaments last year, we got beat up, but after Vegas we started run-ruling teams, so it has a purpose."
Of their six loses, the Marauders' closest game was a 12-7 opening day loss to Northwest Christian. Their largest margin of defeat, a 14-2 thumping from Palo Verde High School (Las Vegas). The Marauders were able to pick up that much needed first win, 8-2 against Wickenburg, but that only softens the blow of their current four-game skid.
It is not all completely doom and gloom. Through their three power-point contests, the Marauders are sporting a team .312 batting average (25-of-80) with 13 RBI's and 2 home runs. Led by seniors Amber Rippy (.500) and Kaitlynn Lewis (,556), and junior Lyssa Rabideau (.400), the Marauders have shown that their offense does have potential. Along with junior Sarah Ortiz (.273), these are the most consistent hitters on the team, which reflects in their position in the batting order. Senior Kaetana Skornik (.375) and senior Celina Morones (.429) join their teammates as the Marauders to have double-digit hits early in the season.
"They're (Rippy, Ortiz and Rabideau) normally the 3-4-5 in our lineup because of consistency more than power, they're just consistent hitters," Brown said. "They see the ball well and they put it in play, which is huge. Each one of them has had ups and downs already. In that tournament they saw great pitching, which exposes a lot. Honestly theirs some other kids too. Kaitlynn Lewis, she's my leadoff slapper, my only slapper, and she's really getting the job done. I've seen a lot of ... we had a freshman, Katie Grandy, came up and I think she's had five at bats. She's been hit by a pitch twice and three hits. Shes coming to the plate with some young experience and she's getting her feet wet here. Those three (Rippy, Rabideau and Ortiz) though definitely are consistent. They're the ones that I intend to put in that position because I know they can hit."
But the youth of the team has shown itself to be a deterrent that the Marauders are able to overcome. After five errors in their opening game, the girls have cracked down and only committed one error per game against Payson and Wickenburg.
Pitching is where the inexperience really shows. Rotating between two pitchers, Skornik and freshman Krista Earl, the pitchers are still adapting to the game. This has led to a combined 6.49 ERA, 33 hits and 24 runs against 18 walks and 16 strikes while facing 102 batters.
In 2013, after starting the season 3-6, the Marauders were able to lean on their veteran leadership to rally the team to a 16-14 final record. This included an 11-2 run to end the season after returning from Las Vegas. The Marauders are being asked to swim in the deep end while still learning how to tread water and it worked in 2013. With 10 power-point games coming up before Las Vegas, including a four-game home stand against Kingman High School (March 25 at 3:45 p.m.), Flagstaff High School (March 28 at 4 p.m.), Winslow High School (April 1 at 3:45 p.m.) and Payson High School (April 4 at 3:45 p.m.), these next games will tell a lot about the Marauders and how the rest of the season will go.
"Truly it is," Brown said. "Not only are they important games, they're power-point games, but they'll get to see how what they've learned reflects in a real game. Then when we go Vegas we'll get another batch of it, come back and finish the season ... their important games and it will be good to see how they take what they learned from Mohave and apply it in these games."
Also, if you are looking for a way to support your Marauders softball team, the girls are holding the inaugural golf tournament at Verde Santa Fe Golf Course on March 29. There are still team spots available and hole sponsorships available if anyone is interested in participating. Visit their Facebook page, 1st annual Mingus Girls Softball Golf Tournament, for more information.
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