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Tue, May 21

A Softball ‘Family’: Prescott Valley-based AZ Batbusters rally behind fiery coach

The Arizona Batbusters are a 14U National Softball Association girls fastpitch softball team based in Prescott Valley. The team is playing in the NSA Beat the Heat Tournament this weekend in Prescott. (Arizona Batbusters/Courtesy)

The Arizona Batbusters are a 14U National Softball Association girls fastpitch softball team based in Prescott Valley. The team is playing in the NSA Beat the Heat Tournament this weekend in Prescott. (Arizona Batbusters/Courtesy)

To a young lady, the 14 members of the Arizona Batbusters’ 14-and-Under girls’ fastpitch softball team understand the importance unity, drive and work ethic play in accomplishing their goals.

Whether on the diamond or in life, these girls from Prescott Valley, Prescott and Winslow share longtime coach James Schmidt’s passion for winning.

At least half of the Batbusters’ players have played softball together for the past six-plus years under Schmidt, a fiery taskmaster with a tough-love approach.

This weekend, the Batbusters competed in the 12-team 14U division of the National Softball Association’s (NSA) Beat the Heat Tournament in Prescott. They were trying to ride the momentum from nabbing a tournament title at the NSA Qualifier Tournament June 3 and 4 in Prescott – in the 16U/18U bracket.

In pool play Saturday at Pioneer Park, the Batbusters lost their first two games by a combined four runs and were looking to bounce back in bracket play later in the afternoon.

“There’s never any quit in these girls,” Schmidt said from practice at Mountain Valley Park Amphitheater in Prescott Valley June 15. “They fight hard and it shows in the quality of the tournaments we play. Whether it’s pitching, hitting or defense, we strive to be 1 percent better every day.”

Schmidt’s daughter, Kirsten, 14, pitches and plays first base for the Batbusters. An original Batbusters roster player on its 12U team, Kirsten owns an 8-2 record with a 3.10 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 36 innings this spring in the pitcher’s circle.

An incoming sophomore at Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott Valley who played for the Bears’ varsity team this year, Schmidt pitches an effective mix of screwballs, curveballs, dropballs, changeups, riseballs and drop curves.

Pitcher/first baseman Peyton Bradshaw, 14, is the other half of a solid 1-2 punch on the slab for the Batbusters. She has a 6-3 record with a 4.00 ERA this spring, tossing screwballs, dropballs and changeups with efficiency.

Becky Lemke, a former All-American at the University of Arizona in Tucson, has coached Kirsten and Peyton for the past two years.

“Our team has progressed in skill and teamwork,” said the 5-foot-7 Bradshaw, a three-sport athlete who also plays basketball and volleyball, her favorite. “We trust each other a lot. This is a very strong team with a very tight bond.”

In the infield, Lyndsey Busch and Brooke Williams of Winslow share the catching duties, while Bradshaw and Schmidt switch off at first base. Taylor Sanchez starts at second, Kassidy Outlaw’s at shortstop and Alexis Ingram’s at third.

Outlaw, an incoming sophomore at Bradshaw Mountain H.S., played for the Bears’ JV-A Team this spring. Born in Page and raised in California, she’s been with the Batbusters for three years. She credits coach Schmidt for making her “the player I am today.”

“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” said Outlaw, whose dream is to play NCAA Division I softball.

Ingram, who will be a freshman at Prescott High School in 2017-18, recently relocated here with her family from near Nashville, Tennessee. She said it’s “fun” being on the Batbusters.

Her mom, Naiomi, learned about the Batbusters on Facebook. Alexis said she and Naiomi “found the team we wanted.”

“It’s not too intense to where they [coaches] pressure you,” Ingram said of why she enjoys the Batbusters. “If you make an error, you correct it. They willingly help you with form. My teammates are nice and I trust them. I like this team. It’s a comfortable spot.”

In the outfield, Aniessa Ramirez, the team captain, roams center, Kaylee Ragan patrols right, and Gabby Aguilera and Busch share the starting spot in left. Rounding out the roster is Shea Hanson, a back-up. Talia Stuller, 12, is on the practice squad and Kylie Osteen’s a back-up pitcher.

Busch, an incoming sophomore at Bradshaw Mountain, said that although the Batbusters’ roster doesn’t stay the same from year to year, the girls “still bond like a family.”

“I was like the mama goose [last year],” said Busch, whose goal is to play softball and study secondary education at Arizona State University in Tempe. “A while ago, I played [youth] soccer for coach Schmidt. After he started a softball team, I’ve loved it ever since.”

PURSUING A DREAM

Coach Schmidt said Batbusters prepares his girls for high school ball and beyond.

“All of them have college aspirations,” he added.

Kirsten, who was 8 when her father started the Batbusters, has already received interest from colleges to play softball, as have Outlaw, Ramirez and Busch, the coach said.

Kirsten credits her dad for promoting the Batbusters’ teamwork in the dugout and for letting the girls know what they’re capable of.

“I am using this [experience] to better myself in hopes of playing college ball,” Kirsten added. “I want to push these girls.”

The switch-hitting Ramirez, an incoming sophomore at Bradshaw Mountain who’s spent six years with the Batbusters, moved to Prescott Valley from Phoenix with her family at age 2.

Like Kirsten, Ramirez wants to play college softball. She’s hoping to earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of Arizona.

Aniessa said her parents have pushed her hard to achieve her dream.

Last November, Aniessa was chosen to participate in a Softball Factory event in Florida. She said she spent 15 hours a day for four days straight there, working out and playing. While in the Sunshine State, she added that she met the pitching coach from Arizona State and several other college coaches.

This past spring, Aniessa earned a spot on Bradshaw Mountain’s varsity team as a reserve outfielder. She credits coach Schmidt and his coaching staff for teaching “us [Batbusters’ players] everything we’ve needed to know” and that they’ve been “like our fathers.”

CONFIDENCE COUNTS

Schmidt, a self-described “baseball guy” formerly of Covina, California, near Los Angeles, has coached for the past 20 years.

In tournament play this spring, Aniessa said Schmidt has preached “confidence over cockiness” and that “anything can happen.”

“We came out with confidence every inning and trusted each other [at the NSA qualifier],” she added. “If we have the same confidence, trust and bond, we will do really good [this summer].”

In 2014, the Batbusters’ 12U team captured its first state amateur tournament title in Kingman. That victory helped set the foundation for Schmidt’s program. Kirsten has absorbed her dad’s advice and run with it.

“If we stay out of our heads and play the way we need to [we can continue to win tournaments],” Kirsten said. “We can’t hold up.”

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