Isleta Senior All-Stars move on to state tourney

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Going into the District 9 Little League softball tournament, the Isleta Senior All-Star softball team saw the challenge that lay ahead of them.

Standing in their way was a combined South Valley team that included players from the league’s two regular squads, one of which had swept Isleta in regular season play.

Submittted photo: THE ISLETA SENIOR All-Stars won the District 9 softball tournament last weekend now play at the state Little League softball tournament this weekend in Santa Fe. Pictured in front, from left, are Mariah Lente, Taylor Lente, Briana Mariano, Glo Zuni, Diedra Zuni and Brittany Lujan; in back, Assistant Coach Mike Lente, Manager Terrie Wilson, Jill Lucero, Bryanna Jiron, Hollie Jaramillo, Augusta Piro, Summer Benavidez and Coach Ernie Gonzales.

But the Isleta team rose to the challenge and then some, sweeping South Valley in the best two-of-three tournament to earn a spot in this weekend’s Little League State Senior Softball Little League tournament at Franklin Miles Park in Santa Fe.

The Isleta All-stars beat South Valley 8-4 on Monday, July 1, then dominated the Bernalillo County-based squad 14-1 on Tuesday, July 2.

Isleta opens the four-team, double-elimination tournament by playing the all-stars from Los Alamos County at 9 a.m., Saturday. Gallup and Copper Little League from Cobre, N.M., round out the tournament field.

According to team manager Terrie Wilson, Isleta’s 11-player senior team (usually for girls aged 13-16) has eight junior-level players (girls aged 12-14) on it, creating a challenge even at the district tournament.

But Isleta pitchers Taylor Lente, Jill Lucero and Diedra Zuni were largely able to shackle South Valley’s hitting and Isleta was able to use its own aggressive offensive style to score relentlessly.

“(The games) were pretty typical,” said Wilson. “We usually have one inning where we really overpower a team and score a lot of runs.”

“I expected them to play harder and make us work to get what we wanted,” said Brittany Lujan, 15, whom Wilson described as one of the team’s most consistent hitters and team leaders.

“It felt good to beat them by more than in the regular season,” said Lente, 14, who along with Lucero and Bryanna Jiron, is one of the team’s big hitters.

Wilson said the team gelled late in the regular season and came together as the district tournament approached. Lujan said the key was working on team communication.

“We’re getting better at it but it’s something we needed to work on,” she said. “When we first started, we weren’t all together. We needed some work on that. But we’re together now.”

Lente, who is one of the team’s solid base hitters along with Holly Jaramillo and Briana Mariano, according to Wilson, said developing a positive attitude for the team was key.

“We kind of pushed each other and helped each other, tried to keep each other up and not get down (during the games),” Lente said.

The trip to state is a return of sorts for the Isleta Little League, which advanced to the state playoff three years ago only to lose in the championship game.

Wilson said consistency will be something the team needs to focus on this weekend.

The other teams are going to be very competitive, very similar to us,” Wilson said. “It’s going to come to down to being able to be consistent in our defense, our hitting and fielding the ball.”

Defense is something Wilson said she and assistant coaches Mike Lente and Ernie Gonzales have worked on with the team.

“On defense, it’s understanding that what other teams are doing, and looking to go after the lead runner, trying to minimize the amount of runs the other team scores on us,” Wilson said, “and the girls have done well to understand that.”

The championship game for the tournament is scheduled for noon Sunday with an “if game” at 6 p.m. Monday. The winner earns a spot at the regional tournament in Vidalia, La., July 26-29.