Preview: Yavapai gears up for clash against Central Arizona at regional tourney
Junior College Softball
The postseason has arrived and the Roughriders have officially lived up to their name by enduring a rough ride of a regular season to earn the No. 2 seed in this weekend’s NJCAA Region 1 Tournament at Arizona Western Community College.
Yavapai notched another strong regular season as it finished second behind Arizona Western in the ACCAC standings with a 37-11 record (46-12 overall). This campaign included a monstrous 17-game winning streak that lasted from Feb. 12 to March 21.
Despite dropping their last game of the regular season to Chandler-Gilbert, the Roughriders are primed to make another deep run much like they did in 2016 where the team placed fifth in the national tournament. On the other hand, the last two postseasons were not so kind to the Roughriders as they won the conference back-to-back but were bounced out in the regional tournament on both occasions rather quickly.
However, Yavapai fifth-year head coach Doug Eastman said this team has a different feel to it compared to years prior.
“It all depends on the makeup of your team and I think the past couple years, those kids were ready to go home and they won conference championships and to some extent, they were content with their accolades,” Eastman said. “But this team’s different. This team is hungry. They want to go on.”
This time around, Yavapai will travel down to Yuma as No. 1 Arizona Western (49-9, 40-8 conference) will play host to them, No. 3 Central Arizona and No. 4 Pima (25-23, 29-26 overall). It will be a double-elimination bracket and would require a total of three wins over the course of Friday and Saturday to be officially crowned champion and book a spot in the national tournament.
As far as the match-up at hand goes, Central Arizona had Yavapai’s number this year, taking three of their four meetings including a doubleheader on April 9 that they won by an eight-run margin. However, the Vaqueros still finished behind the Roughriders in the conference standings with a 35-13 record (42-15 overall). The Roughriders also came up short in three of their four games against conference champion Arizona Western but did the exact opposite against Pima by claiming three of four meetings.
“Our pitching just hasn’t pitched well against (Central Arizona), giving up way too many runs,” Eastman said. “We’ve had leads every single game and then we give them up late. So the pitching has to be better no doubt about it … We’re going to score runs but how we do well just depends on whether our pitchers can keep the opponent at four or less runs, so that’s kind of what I’ve put on their shoulders.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
ACCAC second-teamer Shayne Pinner will be the focal point of the Roughriders’ pitching rotation. The freshman put together a staggering 23-5 overall record (third in ACCAC) while recoding five saves (first in ACCAC) and 188 strikeouts (second in ACCAC) for a 3.489 ERA. Eastman said Kendra Duran and Zoe Zoellner will also see some significant time to relieve Pinner.
Players that will be poised to make a significant impact at the dish are freshman phenom Shaylee Alani and steady sophomore Kylie Brown, who were named to the All-ACCAC First Team for Yavapai. Alani led the Roughriders in RBIs and batting average with 79 (first in ACCAC) and .469 (second in ACCAC), respectively. Brown came in right behind, tallying 69 RBIs (third in ACCAC) while hitting at a .459 clip (fourth in ACCAC).
Yavapai shortstop Brianna Griffiths and outfielder Neenah Pangilinan, who also made the ACCAC second team, will lend a big hand as both ranked within the top 10 in at least three categories among all ACCAC players.
Griffiths has been as reliable as they come, recording a .378 batting average on the year with 21 doubles (fifth in ACCAC), 15 home runs (third in ACCCAC) and 77 runs scored (second in ACCAC). Pangilinan followed suit, hitting .355 to go along with 16 doubles (10th in ACCAC) while speeding around the bases for 62 runs scored (sixth in ACCCA) and 27 stolen bases (fourth in ACCAC).
“As far as I’m concerned, I think either one of them probably should’ve won player of the year. Their stats were just way superior to the actual person that won,” Eastman said of the aforementioned Roughriders. “We just have a number of weapons, we just got to put it together at the right time.”
For Central Arizona, pitcher Baylee Eaton (21-6) surely presents a tall task for Yavapai’s batters to overcome as she tossed for a 3.40 ERA on the season while picking up 133 strikeouts. Eaton won’t be short of run support as six Vaqueros hit above .400 this season, including Makiya Thomas who recorded a .503 average with 36 RBIs.
Notably, the tournament will present a chance for Eastman to break a program record for most wins all time as head coach being that he is currently tied with Stacy Iveson at 226. Eastman admitted that while he doesn’t pay too much attention to his personal accomplishments, the circumstance could very well give the Roughriders an extra boost of motivation.
“I think it feels good for the team,” Eastman said. “This team wants to get me that one more win and they want to be part of the people that put me over the top and make me the all-time winningest coach here, so it’s a great thing for them and gives them a goal to get it done.”
The Roughriders will open the NJCAA Region 1 Tournament as they square off against Central Arizona on Friday at 9 a.m.
Aaron Valdez is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier of Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @Valaaron_94. Email email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2031.