Lady Jaguars' list of returners includes three veteran pitchers

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In softball, you generally go as far as your pitching staff will carry you.

It is easy to see why Valencia coach Jeff Young in so enthused to start the season. The Jags don't have just one returning front-line pitcher — they have three.

Amber Baca (9-10 in 2012), Erin Sharpe (1-0) and Miranda Connelly (3-2) all return and are all underclassmen.

Valencia finished 13-11 last year with a loss to Aztec, 7-4, in the Class 4A state playoffs' first round.

The pitching staff will get tested early as the Jags host Class 5A Rio Rancho at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28.

After hosting Moriarty on March 8, the Jags entertain Class 4A state runner-up Aztec for a Saturday doubleheader, beginning at 10 a.m. on March 9.

The rest of March is filled with tournaments, including the prestigious Aztec tourney and the always-tough Kristen Griego Tournament held in Rio Rancho.

The Jags will host Churchill, Ore., for a single game on Monday, March 25, prior to the Griego tourney.

"I always like for our girls to have to face tough teams in the early schedule," said coach Young. "It gets us ready for district."

The Jags only have two seniors on the roster in Caroline Lucero and Belinda Lucero. The team will need to grow up fast in the midst of the tough slate of games.

Sharpe, Connelly and Baca will play in the field when they are not on the mound. Sharpe is one of the leading returning bats for the Jags. She will share time at third base with coach Young's sophomore daughter, Kayla, and the two provide the power punch in the No. 3 and No. 4 spots of the batting order.

Young will play first base, when not filling in for Sharpe at third.

Connelly will play the outfield, along with Belinda Lucero, Justine Otero and Trevizo Lizette.

Otero and Caroline Lucero also play first base.

Two freshmen will try and replace Molly Holliday and Raquel Lopez, who both graduated last year.

Alisha Vigil will take the catching duties, while Adrianna Cabajal is slated for shortstop.

"It is nice to have freshmen that can play in those spots," said Young. "That way, we can have them in those positions for several years. It builds stability for our club."

Dayanna Iturralde, a sophomore, will compete with freshman Erica Lucero and sophomore Krystal Vargas for the second base position.

Even with losing Holliday, the leading hitter for the Jags, Young is optimistic with his young squad.

He estimates that the Jags will be right there with Gallup and Los Lunas again, just like the past two years.

The Jags have improved and taken one more step each year, according to Young. This year, he would like to see the Jags get to state and take home some wins.

"We will find out what we have," said Young. "We know that we have been in the tough spots before, so it becomes second nature."


-- Email the author at mstearns@news-bulletin.com.