By Dave Wagner
CNJ SPORTS WRITER
With a relatively experienced team returning, Clovis High softball coach Brandi Thomas would like to see the Lady Wildcats do something they haven’t done in a while — reach the Class 5A state tournament.
Thomas, a CHS grad who has been coaching in the program for 14 years, the last 10 as head coach, led the Lady Cats to the round of 16 at state, the only time the program has gotten that far.
In order to do that, they have to be able to handle their District 4-5A rivals, Carlsbad and Hobbs.
“Our main objective is to compete with Carlsbad and make it to the first round of the state tournament,” said Thomas, whose team opens the season at Lady Wildcat Field with a 6:30 p.m. game on Friday against Lubbock Monterey.
That’s a tall order for a program which has struggled in the shadows of two more established programs. The Lady Cats return nine players from last year’s 5-19 squad (1-7 district), most of whom have starting experience.
The team is also waiting for two players, senior shortstop Ashley Gallagher and senior outfielder Kyleigh Guthals, who are still involved with the school’s top-ranked girls basketball team.
“We’re going to be very versatile this year,” Thomas said.
Senior Andrea Aguilar is scheduled to open the season at shortstop until Gallagher returns, then move to center field. Guthals, meantime, will be in left field this year after playing right field in 2013.
Aguilar, who has played virtually every infield and outfield position and can also pitch, thinks the team has the depth to do well.
“We should be able to compete with them,” she said of the district. “It should be fun. I enjoy softball a lot because of the girls.
She said she doesn’t mind moving around the diamond.
“I feel I can be wherever she (Thomas) needs me to be, and she can rely on me,” Aguilar said. “I know we have a lot of girls who can do that.”
The Lady Cats lost some outfield depth last week when junior Savannah Nelson injured her knee during a scrimmage. Thomas said she would have played some center field.
Meantime, seniors Alexa Joyce, who is from England, and Nia Rodriguez are newcomers who could find time in the outfield. In fact, Thomas said Rodriguez is likely to play left until Guthals returns.
Pitchers are likely to be juniors A.J. Wright and Samantha Laney, with junior Stephanie Gulley catching. Wright will probably play somewhere in the outfield when not pitching.
Others who should see regular time include senior Micah Morris at first base or DP, junior Denise Garcia at second and sophomore Mariah Chavez at third.
“It’ll be a good test for us,” said Thomas of the Lady Plainsmen, coached by former CHS baseball assistant Brian Cronk. “They’ll come in here with anywhere from eight to 12 games under their belt.”
28 — Lubbock Monterey, 6:30 p.m.
4 — at Amarillo High, 3:30 p.m.; 14-15 — at Las Cruces tournament; 20 — at Artesia, 6:30 p.m.; 28-29 — at Rio Rancho Cleveland tournament; 31 — at Roswell High, 6 p.m.
3 — at Portales, 4 p.m.; 5 — vs. Rio Rancho Cleveland at Santa Rosa, noon; 12 — Sandia (2), noon; 15 — at Hobbs (2), 4:30 p.m.-x; 19 — Portales, 11 a.m.; 22 — at Carlsbad (2), 4:30 p.m.-x; 25 — Hobbs (2), 4:30 p.m.-x; 29 — Carlsbad (2), 4:30 p.m.-x.
x-Denotes District 4-5A games.