Clovis freshman Tisa Forrest pitches during softball practice last week at the Lady Wildcat Complex. The Lady Wildcats open their season Friday at home against Hobbs in the Clovis Invitational. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
A 12-12 record two years ago turned into a 13-13 mark last year for the Clovis High softball team.
Lady Wildcats coach Brandi Thomas knows that while the team may not appear to be making major progress toward the state tournament, the playoffs seem to be closing in on Clovis. That’s because of the expanded 16-team postseason instituted for Class 5A this year.
Still, Thomas is trying to instill higher goals in her Lady Wildcats than just getting beyond the regular season.
“That’s the big thing — we want to win (district),” Thomas said.
There’s no denying, however, that the team’s record in either of the last two years would practically have made Clovis a postseason shoo-in under the new system.
Last year, it was champion Carlsbad and Sandia who were the two district teams to qualify. The year before? Carlsbad and Manzano.
“That’s going to help us out quite a bit,” Thomas said. “We’re young, but the format being what it is, the top two teams get to go but the third team still has a good shot at getting in — depending on the record.
“Dropping down to a three-team district hurts us a little bit because we won’t see some of the bigger schools. We play the Roswells, the Goddards a lot more; we’ll see a lot more of Artesia this year.”
Clovis opens its season Friday by hosting a four-team, round-robin tournament.
The main area this year’s squad is hoping to shore up is in the pitching department. With Julie Surina and Annie Tweedy having graduated, Thomas will be turning the ball over to the likes of senior Rachelle Urban, sophomore Tisa Forrest and, on occasion, eighth-grader Lynnae Logan.
Urban, catcher Nichole Holguin and reserve Naomi Baca are Clovis’ only three seniors this season.
“I pitched last year, but not in as many games as I’m going to,” Urban said.
Over the summer, Urban played with a team coached by Alamogordo assistant Ronnie Reyes and filled out largely by Alamo players. Since the Lady Tigers won the Class 5A state championship last year, Thomas believes the experience can only help Urban.
“Racha’s been with me from the very beginning. As an eighth-grader, she was on the JV and she’s come a long way,” Thomas said. “Ronnie called me and asked specifically for her to come play with them. She got a lot of experience with that and I think that boosted her confidence a whole lot.”
Many on the Clovis roster saw significant playing time last year, including Jordan Garrett, who is moving from the outfield to the left side of the infield.
Thomas plans on playing Garrett and Samantha Ramos, another 2005 regular, at shortstop and third base until junior Sonia Chavez is fully recovered from a shoulder injury. Until then, when she’ll go to third, Chavez is the team’s designated player.
The other side of the infield will have juniors Cynthia Lucio and Angelica Serna at, respectively, first and second.
The newcomers for the Lady Cats will mostly be placed in the outfield.
Sophomore Teshia Lujan is slated to play left while junior Maria Gallegos will be in center. Three players — juniors Ashley Gallegos, Kim Lumsden and Kambrey Jones — will be given tries in right.
“We’re pumped. I mean, we’ve got the talent to do it,” said Holguin, who was also Clovis’ regular catcher last year. “If we just keeping working hard, we can go.”
Offensively, Thomas thinks the team will be productive.
“We could be deadly everywhere. We’ve got the speed, we can play the short game with them,” she said. “We’ve just got to be smart on the basepaths and I think we’re going to be OK.”