Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Two-time all-region honoree Angel Ontiveros batted second in the 2020 line-up. The Morenci senior led the team in home runs (9) while batting .465 (40-86, 39 RBIs) from the clean-up slot as a junior.
By Raymundo Frasquillo
MORENCI – Other than an area excessive heat warning, April 27 and April 28 came and went without much fanfare. The dates fell on Monday and Tuesday of the month’s final week.
The significance of April 27 was the second date selected by the Arizona Interscholastic Association for its’ statewide rankings release, originally set for March 24, but delayed because of a four-week pause from March 16 through April 10. The 28th was supposed to be Morenci’s regular-season softball finale with Thatcher and a prelude to the post-season.
None of the events occurred because the governor called off “in-class” learning on March 30, and the A.I.A. followed by canceling the rest of the 2020 season and spring sports state championships. A global health crisis was the cause of the cancellation and remains the reason for a state-wide “stay-at-home” directive until May 15.
Morenci fielded baseball, golf, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track, and softball teams. The Wildcats got in eight baseball games, four golf meets, four matches for both tennis teams, three meets for both track teams, and eight softball games before the initial pause.
“I am disappointed that (the) season ended early,” Morenci fourth-year softball head coach Joseph Garcia said. “I understand the reasoning behind it, but anytime someone misses out on a full season of high school sports, it is disappointing.”
“I feel for our senior softball players,” he said. “They have sacrificed so much and dedicated themselves for four years, yet they were unable to finish what they started on their own terms.”
Morenci’s 2020 varsity softball team suited up two three-year infield starters in Angel Ontiveros and Brigid Silvester, a first-year outfield starter in Reve Garcia, and a two-year outfield reserve in Danielle Figueroa.
“I feel bad for all spring sports athletes throughout the nation who had their senior seasons abruptly ended early,” the head coach said. “Hopefully the younger athletes learn from this situation that nothing is guaranteed. So make sure to put in the work, don’t take things for granted, and be the best version of yourself that you can be because you never know when it can come to an end.”
Was it worth the time?
“Yes,” Reve Garcia said. “To me, softball was a comfort place where I could go and just forget about the hectic going on in my life. I would recommend (playing the sport) to anyone, even if they’ve never had any experience. The game just brings all these girls together and we become one. The friendships are forever lasting and my love for the sport will forever run deep.”
“Just to be involved and make those friendships are the greatest,” she said. “Softball is a challenging sport, but playing the sport just speaks for itself. It’s so much fun, and the love from the team and the coaches is an unexplainable feeling that you only get to experience with the sport.”
Garcia was one of six Wildcats batting .300 or better, averaging .368 (7-19) with six RBIs. She was also one of five on the team with errorless fielding, 1.000 (5-5), through seven games.
“I gained the experience of playing (the sport),” Figueroa said. “I appreciate and loved it even more because of my improvement (in it). I was going to make the best of it.”
She prepared for her senior season by lifting weights, taking part in summer games, indoor batting sessions, and mentally readied for what would be her final season. She encourages others to participate in the sport, “do what you want, do not feel intimidated.”
Figueroa’s 2020 season was limited to a courtesy runner’s slot in one game, scoring one of 16 runs against Pima in what turned out to be the season finale in mid-March. She played in only two games as a junior, drawing a walk during two plate appearances.
Ontiveros and Silvester both started as sophomores, at third base and second base, respectively. Ontiveros was named to the second team while Silvester received all-region honorable mention. Silvester switched to shortstop in 2019 and along with Ontiveros, earned all-region first-team honors. Neither one could bring themselves to answer questions about their senior seasons.
Ontiveros played in four games and batted .333 (1-3, RBI) as a freshman, 31 games and batted .337 (29-86, 19 RBIs, six doubles, triple, 3 home runs) as a sophomore, plus 27 games and batted .465 (40-86, 39 RBIs, 2 doubles, 2 triples, 9 home runs) as a junior. Her fielding averages were .836 (51-61) as a sophomore and .854 (41-48) as a junior with a double play in each year.
She batted .263 (5-19, 3 RBIs, 2 doubles) and fielded .808 (21-26) for eight games while hitting number two in the 2020 line-up.
Silvester played in 23 games and batted .400 (14-35, 2 RBIs, 2 doubles, 2 triples) as a sophomore plus 27 games and batted .481 (39-81, 20 RBIs, 5 doubles, 2 triples) as a junior. Her fielding averages were .895 (34-38) as a sophomore and .875 (63-72) as a junior. She was involved in a double play as a sophomore and in two as a junior.
She batted .391 (9-23, 7 RBIs, triple) and fielded .895 (17-19) in eight games as the lead-off hitter this season.
Four other returning all-region honorees were also on the 2020 roster. Junior Hunter Lindsey was on the 2019 second team while juniors Candace Forgach-Aguilar and Marissa Gallegos along with sophomore Devanie Medina received honorable mention.
Lindsey batted .176 (3-17, 3 RBIs) plus fielded 1.000 (3-3) during seven games, Aguilar .357 (5-14, double) plus .833 (5-6) during seven games, Gallegos .286 (4-14, 2 RBIs, 2 doubles) plus .714 (10-14) during seven games, and Medina .211 (4-19) plus .600 (3-5) during eight games.
Other veterans included juniors Jadyn Aguilera and Lanea Leonard plus sophomore Juliauna Forgach-Aguilar.
Aguilera batted .364 (4-11, 4 RBIs, 2 doubles) plus fielded 1.000 (3-3) during six games, Leonard .200 (3-15, 3 RBIs, home run) plus 1.000 (14-14) during eight games, and Aguilar .300 (6-20, 7 RBIs, double) plus .935 (43-47) during seven games.
Also on the roster were junior Amaya Sanchez, sophomores Eliana Cazares and Talia Martinez, and freshmen Alicia Cruz, Celine Manuz, Mia Ontiveros, and Hannah Silvester.
Silvester wielded a big stick for the Wildcats, batting .727 (8-11, 3 RBIs) to lead the region and end sixth in the state for those playing six or more games, fielded 1.000 (3-3), and stole 6-6 bases.
The top five batters were 3A East Holbrook senior Madison Chappell with .857 (12-14) during seven games, 3A West Wickenburg sophomore Clare Peterson with 792 (19-24) during eight games, Wickenburg senior Jeri Radney with .783 (18-23) during eight games, 2A Valley Chandler Prep sophomore Isabella Guadian with .750 (15-20) during six games, and 3A Metro East Gilbert American Leadership freshman Madison Muehling with .750 (12-16) during six games.
Manuz played in four games, Cazares, Martinez, and Ontiveros in two, and Cruz and Sanchez in one apiece. Manuz and Cazares were limited to courtesy runner roles, scoring three runs and one, respectively. Ontiveros batted twice while Cruz, Martinez, and Sanchez once each, all with no hits.
Morenci’s basketball team’s quarterfinals appearance left three veterans and a rookie with only four practice sessions before the season opener in Safford Feb. 28. A 10-9 advantage in the top of the seventh did not hold up. The Bulldogs scored two unearned runs with no outs on an error, using only three batters to prevail by a run during their final at-bat.
The Wildcats were run-ruled 3-13 by the visiting New Mexico Bayard Cobre Indians Feb. 29; went 1-3 in the Glendale Apollo “Cool Nights” Tourney, splitting with Eagar Round Valley 12-3 and Goodyear Desert Edge 3-7 during three innings each on March 5, and falling to both San Tan Valley Poston Butte 3-10 (4 inn.) and Phoenix Sierra Linda 2-4 (5 inn.) on March 6; and topping Willcox 8-2 March 10 and Pima 16-3 (5 inn.) March 13, both in region play.
The 2020 East Region standings, as of the end of the first three weeks played, were Thatcher 2-0 region and 2-0 seeding, Morenci (3-5 overall) 2-0 and 2-2, Benson (6-3) 1-0 and 3-0, Pima 1-2 and 2-2, Bisbee 0-1 and 0-1, Willcox (2-6) 0-1 and 1-2, and Tombstone 0-2 and 1-3. Pima, Thatcher, and Tombstone each participated in the two-day Safford Tourney March 6-7, but game results went unpublished and were sent to the landfill Safford athletic director Toni Corona said.
Region games canceled numbered nine for Pima; 10 for Morenci, Thatcher, and Tombstone; and 11 for Benson, Bisbee, and Willcox. Non-region games called off included five for Thatcher; four for both Bisbee and Pima; three for both Benson and Morenci; and two for both Tombstone and Willcox. Additionally, tournaments were not held in Payson and Douglas, leaving Benson and Willcox with more missed games.
During the 2019 season awards banquet, head coach Joseph Garcia reviewed the softball programs’ accomplishments.
Morenci finished in the state semifinals three of the four most recent years and two consecutive times during Garcia’s three seasons.
The Wildcats qualified for the state meet 15 consecutive seasons since the program was revived in 2001, going 6-8 (quarterfinalists thrice, 2005-06, 2011) during eight seasons under Christopher Aguallo (2005-12), 5-4 (quarterfinalists 2015, semifinalists 2016) during four seasons under James Hollestelle (2013-16), and 5-3 under Garcia (2016-19).
Morenci was edged 1-2 in 11 innings by No. 6 San Manuel as No. 3 during the 2017 quarterfinals, 1-2 (8 inn.) by No. 1 Benson as No. 4 during the 2018 semifinals, and 1-4 by No. 1 Benson as No. 4 during the 2019 semifinals.
In region contests played from 2017-19, Morenci posted a won-loss record of 29-7 and outscored opponents 13-3 (455-109) per game or by 10 runs.
The Wildcats went 6-0 versus Bisbee, Pima, Thatcher, and Tombstone with averages scores per game of 20-3 (121-16), 12-1 (74-7), 11-3 (64-18), and 24-1 (142-4), respectively. A 4-2 mark against Willcox had an average score per game of 7-5 (41-30) while the 1-5 showing with Benson yielded an average score per game of 2-6 (13-34).
“It’s not automatic,” he said. “You have to work hard to get there and do what you can to make yourself better during the off-season. It includes spending time in the weight room, taking part in summer league games and batting sessions. You get out what you put in.”
The Wildcats heeded his advice. They took part in summer games, hit the weight room, and attended batting sessions, some religiously and others sporadically prior to the start of the 2020 season.
Morenci had an identical 3-5 record after eight games in 2020 as in 2019, was 4-4 in 2018, and 4-3-1 in 2017.
However, the Wildcats played 15 games in 2017 and 13 in both 2018 and 2019 during the initial three weeks. The difference was Morenci participated in two tourneys, one in Safford and the other in Glendale during each of the previous three seasons. The tourneys fell on the same dates this season and Morenci could only attend one.
The Wildcats were halted with a .310 (58-187, 46 RBIs) batting average in 2020. After eight games, the averages were .308 (52-168, 32 RBIs) in 2019, .475 (97-204, 54 RBIs) in 2018, and .281 (55-196) in 2017.
Morenci’s regular season team batting averages were .391 (254-660, 216 RBIs) after 25 games in 2019, .431 (326-757, 235 RBIs) after 28 games in 2018, and .311 (250-805, 197 RBIs) after 31 games in 2017.
Players are constantly told “it matters not how you start but rather how you finish.”
The mid-March ending was not how anyone expected the 2020 season to conclude. Sadly, the state tourney does not lie ahead during the next two weeks of May.
“I am sure it is a difficult time for those young ladies and their families,” Morenci head coach Joseph Garcia concluded.