By JAMES KELLEY
Photo by ED ADAMS
Despite losing a plethora of talent from one of the best teams in school history, the Pima Community College softball team is optimistic this year thanks to a deep roster.
“We have a bunch of great athletes,” head coach Armando Quiroz said. “We are going to be very good defensively and offensively if we live up to our potential.”
The Aztecs will seek to improve on last year’s 57-11 team, which won the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference championship and finished second at Regionals.
“I think we have a lot of talent,” sophomore catcher Charissa Ballesteros said. “If we keep working as hard as we have been, then there is no reason why we shouldn’t win a national title.”
The Aztecs must replace three superstars: No. 1 pitcher Jordan Trujillo, catcher Melina Trujillo and shortstop Kaity Ingram.
Melina Trujillo and Ingram were named first team All-Americans, while Jordan Trujillo was named to the second team and was the ACCAC player of the year.
“They were the center of our team, the heart of our team, the core of our team,” Quiroz said. “We have talent but we need what they brought to us: leadership, heart, guile. That’s what we are looking for from this year’s team.”
The preseason poll has not yet been released, but the Aztecs finished last year ranked No. 4.
“We have a lot more depth,” Quiroz said. “Last year we had a great starting nine. It remains to be seen but we will match up very well to last year’s team.”
Freshman Mari Contreras, from Sunnyside High School, is one candidate to replace Jordan Trujillo. In a 3-1 exhibition loss in October against the University of Arizona, Contreras threw five scoreless innings.
“We have great pitchers, one through six, even though some of them are injured,” Ballesteros said. “They’re working really hard and we should have some of the top pitchers in the conference.”
Last year, the team used just three pitchers. Quiroz said Pima added a few more pitchers than normal this year, but all six won’t be available right away.
“We also have three pitchers that are out with injury, so I guess we are back to normal,” he said.
Quiroz is excited about his big freshman class of 15 players.
“We have a lot of freshmen coming in, so competition is really hard,” freshman third baseman Jessica Sipe said. “It just makes us work that much harder because there are so many people.”
The Aztecs also picked up a few transfers, most notably infielder Katie Asher from Oklahoma State University and outfielder Nicole Rascon from archrival Yavapai College. Last year Asher played in 15 games for the Cowgirls and Rascon redshirted.
“Katie did really well and just wanted to come home,” Quiroz said.
The Aztecs expect the new depth to help out. For example, Asher and Sipe both were third basemen last year.
“Last year it hurt because we ended up with one third baseman and one in certain areas because of injuries and stuff,” Ballesteros said. “I think it helps a lot that we have three girls at almost every position, because if one is not hitting then the other one can go in.”
Ballesteros is the Aztecs’ best returning threat on offense. Last year she was second in the ACCAC in RBIs with 79 and hit .445.
“One through 23, I think we are all amazing hitter,” Ballesteros said. “It is going to be hard for coach to pick a certain nine to put in the lineup.”
Once again the ACCAC is expected to be strong. Ten national champions since 2000, including the 2004 and 2006 titles won by Pima, have come from the ACCAC.
“This year, like every year, the conference is loaded,” Quiroz said. “There are five great teams in our division and it will be a dogfight.”
The Aztecs start the season Jan. 28 at the College of Southern Nevada Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas. Their home opener is Feb. 5 at noon against Eastern Arizona College.
Pima’s home field is at the West Campus. All games are doubleheaders unless they are in a tournament.
On Feb. 18, PCC travels to Palm Springs, Calif., for the Cathedral City Kickoff. On March 12, the Aztecs host archrival Yavapai, which upset Pima in the Regional playoffs and ended their season.