ELOY — When more than half of a team’s roster is made up of underclassmen, growing pains and road bumps are to be expected during the season.
Monday proved to be one of those days for the Santa Cruz Valley softball team, which hosted top seed and undefeated Benson.
“They’re a good team, and they’re well coached,” Santa Cruz assistant coach Richie Reyes said. “They’ve been a good program for a long time, and we knew that it was going to be a tough game.”
While the Bobcats (12-0) showed why they’re the No. 1 seed in the 18-2 win, the Dust Devils (8-3) showed potential that they will be a serious threat in the future.
“We are a young team; we knew we’d be a young team, but a lot of our girls play throughout the year so we hope that they can use their experience for the summer and their club (team) to benefit us in the playoffs,” Reyes said.
Unlike previous seasons, Santa Cruz does have the benefit of having year-round softball players on the roster. While the Dust Devils lack in competing against quality pitchers during the regular season, it’s not uncharted territory for them.
“With the girls that play year-round it gives us a little more of a chance to compete late in the playoffs because they’ve played this level of competition,” Reyes said. “It’s going to be a big advantage; we just have to use it.”
Besides 3A Coolidge and Sahuarita, Santa Cruz had not faced a truly competitive opponent in their own conference before playing the Bobcats.
Prior to Monday’s game Santa Cruz had outscored opponents 136-41.
The start of the game was a pretty good indication of how the day would go as Celina Wilharm led things off with a solo home run. One batter later, Emily Darwin also hit one over the fence as Benson led 3-0.
The Bobcats would bat around the order twice and jumped out to a 14-0 lead, which makes any type of comeback nearly impossible.
“I think that we didn’t show up,” Reyes said. “We were a little timid, we were a little nervous, we started off slow. The one thing about (Benson) is they’ve always made adjustments off what they’ve seen the first time. So we were just going to play them straight up and see what happens. We’ll make some adjustments and we’ll be more competitive.”
Santa Cruz’s top hitter in Ylianna Velazco doubled with one out in the bottom of the first inning, advanced to third on a groundout by Rhaylyn Tarango and scored on an error by Benson second baseman Tatum Benson.
The Dust Devils’ second run of the game came in the fifth inning after Miranda Tapia reached base on a hit by pitch with one out. The sophomore then stole second base and reached third on a passed ball. Velzaco drove in the run on a hard grounder to the left field side.
Following the big 14-run first inning by the Bobcats, Santa Cruz only limited them to four runs the rest of the game and held them scoreless in the third inning.
“As the game progressed, we realized that we can be competitive,” Reyes said. “We wanted to think that we had a chance, but it was going to be a big task, but we know that we belonged here, and we know that we can put the ball in play and make some things happen.”
The defense struggled as they produced seven errors. In the circle, Tarango walked three and allowed 18 hits and 11 earned runs.
“We have girls that play the same position so we’re just trying to workout the kinks to see what works best for the team,” Reyes said.
Tarango has tossed every inning for Santa Cruz this season but is not the only pitcher on the roster.
Alina Ramirez also pitches but according to Reyes she’s needed more in the outfield at the moment.
“For us as a team it kind of works better when Rhaylyn is (in the circle) and she’s in left field,” Reyes said. “(Ramirez) can also play first base, so we’re working on a few things, but she is something that we will use when we need it.”