Winslow softball advances into Final Four

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

PHOENIX, April 9, 2013

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(Courtesy photo – Verde Valley Newspapers, Inc.)

Mingus Union catcher Taylor Bailey steadies her glove for a pop out against Winslow during the Division III state quarterfinals on Saturday in Phoenix. The Bulldogs advanced into the semifinals with a 4-2 win.

A few things were made clear during the Arizona Division III state softball tournament over the weekend.

Among them is the strength and talent level of the Winslow softball team as they improved to a 25-3 record after winning two games in the state playoffs.

The No. 3 seeded Bulldogs opened the tournament with a 7-2 win over No. 19 seed Coolidge on May 3, before taking out No. 6 seed Mingus Union with a 4-2 win last Saturday.

On Friday, the Bulldogs will play No. 2 Payson at 7:30 p.m. with the winner advancing into Saturday's finals with all games being played at the sports complex in downtown Phoenix.

In their quarterfinal game against the Lady Marauders, Winslow showed a great deal of poise as the team from Mingus had multiple chances of blowing the game wide open.

With their ace pitcher ailing, the Winslow defense helped Halle Hayes out of a jam as the Marauders loaded the bases in both the second and third frame.

Sophomore backup Richelyn Villanueva then took over as she closed out the win by pitching the last four innings by giving up one run on three hits while striking out five batters.

Offensively, the Bulldogs scattered nine hits with Halle Hayes leading the way with three hits while right outfielder Jaime Bollin and catcher Jitter Hayes added two hits each.

The Bulldogs pushed across three runs in the bottom of the third to break a 1-1 stalemate with Halle Hayes leading off with a triple, scoring on a passed ball.

Jitter Hayes and Renee Bollin then followed with a single and a hit pitch and both runners made it home on a RBI double from left outfielder Megan Lymer.

"They have been amazing the past two days," said Winslow coach Kelli Fifelski of her team's play. "The offense is coming along, we switched some people in the batting order so that we can move people around.

"The defense has really stepped up on everything," she added. "We had some amazing defensive plays and they have really stood behind their pitcher.

Coming into their quarterfinal matchup, Fifelski said pitcher Hayes was a little injured but she was happy that the girls were rallying behind her.

"Halle was hurting, she was trying to fight through some stuff today," Fifelski said. "We made the call that we needed to get her out of there and Richelyn did an awesome job coming in and finishing the game for us."

Again the defense stepped up with Villanueva inside the circle as Mingus had runners in scoring position. For the game the Bulldogs stranded 12 Mingus runners.

"From second base to the outfielders they were making plays," Fifelski said. "They were stepping up in different areas and the girls did a good job of talking to each other."

"We just stuck together and we made sure we got the outs when we needed them," said Winslow first baseman Taylor Baca.

Of course the first line of defense belongs to the arms of Halle Hayes and Villanueva.

"We count on our pitchers, they can get the job done," said Jitter Hayes. "If anything, our defense is there to back them up."

For the past month, Jitter Hayes said her team has been playing with a lot of energy, the same energy that has taken them to the state championship for the last four years.

"We're just sticking together," she said. "We're so close together and we all want to get the job done.

In those aforementioned years, the Bulldogs have made the finals under the guidance of former Winslow coach Becky Barris, who lost her life in a car accident earlier this year.

"I think this year we have a harder drive to win state," said Halle Hayes. "We know exactly who we're doing this for. One of her favorite lines was, 'Do what you do best' and I know she would want this from us."

Fifelski, who was hired to take over the program last summer, said the seniors decided to make T-shirts to honor Barris.

"Everything happened almost two weeks before we started in February so it really hit close to home," Fifelski said. "The passing of coach Barris took a toll on them but we wanted to make sure we keep them together. They have done a really good job of pulling together and remembering who and what they are playing for."

As for their semifinal game with Payson on Friday, Fifelski said she's expecting another grudge match.

Earlier this year, the Bulldogs dropped a 4-1 decision during the championship game of the Gracie Haught Classic in Payson.

"As long as the defense stays solid and plays like it has been I think we'll prevail," Fifelski said. "They have two excellent pitchers and we're going to prepare for that during practice (this) week.

"Basically it's going to come down to who wants it more," Halle Hayes added. "Now that we've seen the different kinds of speed I think we'll be ready for them."

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