Staff photo by Eric Lusk
VERDE Valley softball pitcher McKensie Ricca gets warmed up during a practice in Clarkdale on Thursday.
The group practiced with the zeal and energy of a professional team preparing for the World Series.
Infielders popped their gloves, scooped up ground balls and fired rockets to teammates around the bases. Outfielders tracked down fly balls and worked on their relay throws to the shortstop. Coaches gave enthusiastic instruction and encouragement.
In a sense, the Verde Valley group, as well as a handful of other all-star teams in the area, are getting ready for their own version of the World Series. Little League district tournaments certainly take on the flavor of major championship events during their annual summer run.
"Kids will remember playing all-stars for the rest of their lives," said Verde Valley coach Jeff Scalf.
Scalf’s Verde Valley bunch certainly won’t forget their first district game of 2003, played Friday night in Prescott Valley. Ronald Morones pitched a complete game, and nearly everyone on the roster got at least one base hit as Verde Valley topped Bagdad 13-4.
"The kids played awesome," Scalf said. "We had several doubles and triples. Ronald pitched an excellent game."
Verde Valley and Prescott look to be the toughest teams in the 9-10 baseball bracket this year. Prescott typically enters two teams into the district tournament but combined this summer into just one squad. Camp Verde was no-hit by Prescott in a 19-0 loss on Friday.
"I feel like we’re the best team out there," Scalf said confidently. "I think we’re going to give Prescott fits. This is probably the strongest defensive and hitting team I’ve ever seen. If these guys stick together, Mingus (High) is going to be awesome."
In addition to Morones, Verde Valley’s roster includes Nick Alred, Cruz Chavez Jr., Matt Chavez, Eddie Cole, Erik DeMar, Chris Carillo, Michael Newhall, Buddy Wakefield, Wally Wilburn, Todd Scalf, Efrain Romero, Carson Sandoval and Erick Quesada. Frank Trimble and Rueben Sandoval are serving as assistant coaches.
Verde Valley will play again Tuesday at 5 p.m. against host Prescott Valley, which rallied to beat Sedona 9-8 on Friday. Sedona fell into the loser’s bracket and met Williams in an elimination game on Saturday night (finished after press time).
Camp Verde will try to stay alive with a 5 p.m. Monday elimination game against either Chino Valley or Dewey-Humboldt.
"Prescott’s pitching was just overwhelming," Camp Verde coach Chet Teague said of his team’s Friday loss. "I coached all-stars last year, and we played Chino in the first game, and of course they went on and won it and took second or third in the state. This is the same situation. I definitely think Prescott is the team to beat."
The Camp Verde all-stars trailed 2-0 after the top of the first inning and had a runner on third in the bottom half of the first. But that runner was caught stealing home, and Prescott went on to add six more runs in the top of the second.
"That took the air out of our kids," Teague said. "Some of our kids aren’t used to losing. The team that I coached this year (in Camp Verde Little League) went undefeated."
Johnny "Charles" Hudson, Andrew Teague, Jacob Williams, Joe Wilson, Stefan Porter, Kyle Ostert, David Ashford, Tanner Rezzonico, Brad Dix, Jacob Lund and Garrett Dickison comprise the Camp Verde roster.
The 9-10 district championship game will be Saturday, June 28 (Monday, June 30 if Saturday’s result leaves both remaining teams with one loss each.)
The 9-and 10-year old softball all-stars will kick off their district tournament on Monday, also in Prescott Valley. Verde Valley will meet Sedona, and Camp Verde will face Prescott Valley. Both games start at 6 p.m.
Camp Verde is the defending champion in the 9-10 girls division. Last summer, the CV all-stars rallied from an 18-7 deficit to beat Verde Valley 37-29 in the title game.
It was Camp Verde’s first 9-10 softball district championship. The game took two nights to complete due to lighting problems at Butler Park.
Camp Verde and Verde Valley should be among the favorites again. Both teams return several players who suited up last year.
Marlin Parker, Lynda Parker and Liz Fullbright will direct Camp Verde’s repeat efforts.
Camp Verde players this year include Kaylee Ostert (the winning pitcher from last year’s title game), Jasmine Fullbright, Roque Parker, Shayna Sterret, Allie McClaskey, Vinita Dowdle, Megan Teague, Kylie Randolph, Dixie Clinkenbeard, Paxton Dickinson, Tory Mathews and Lily Thompson.
Verde Valley will counter with one of its best teams in years, according to coach Toni Ortiz.
Nine players return from last year, including pitcher McKensie Ricca. Others on the 2003 roster are Allyn Backus, Cassie Bailey, Cassadee Bring, Taylor Brott, Cassidy Galloway, Kendra Gaunt, Jordan Grau, Britney Lawler, Olivia Moncibaez, Desi Ortiz, Sara Pfister, Mary Rogers and LaShea Taylor.
Lori Gaunt and Wendy Dalton will serve as assistant coaches.
"We are an extremely strong team," said Ortiz, whose squad scored 53 runs in a four-hour district tournament game last summer. "We’ve got seven pitchers and six players who can play first base.
"Everyone is strong universally. Most of these girls didn’t play together during the season but they have all come together united here."
The district softball tournament will continue all week, culminating with the championship game Friday night.
District tournaments for Majors (11-12) and Junior (13-14) division teams will start at the end of June/early July. Camp Verde will host the Majors softball at Butler Park, and Cottonwood will host Majors baseball at Herridge Field and Cottonwood Middle.