‘We still have a job to do’: High-ranked Gallup girls eye district, state tourneys
The Gallup High softball team has hit a new benchmark.
With all the tools to make a serious run in the 4A state playoffs, the Lady Bengals were ranked as high as No. 1 earlier this season, according to MaxPreps.com.
Gallup earned that distinction a couple of weeks ago and in the latest statewide ranking they were seeded No. 2 behind Artesia.
“That’s the first time Gallup has been ranked that high,” Bengals coach Rayfert Spencer said. “It’s great to get these girls that recognition but we still have a job to do. We want to play in that last game of the season and we want to win it.”
Prior to this year, Spencer said Gallup was ranked as high as No. 3 when assistant coach Crystal Pablo was a senior catcher on the 2013 team.
“That’s the last time we won the district title,” he said. “They did really well and I think they got fourth at state that year.”
The Bengals are hoping to surpass that benchmark with a talented team, which features five freshmen, including ace pitcher Seniah Haines.
“She’s worked very hard during the offseason and I think she’s our missing piece to take us to that next level,” Spencer said of his ace. “She’s been doing great and the team has been backing her up with our defense and hitting.”
Spencer said the sky is the limit on his 14-2 team as the Bengals opened up the season by playing some strong competition from 5A, which includes games against Rio Rancho Cleveland, Farmington and Alamogordo. Against those teams, Gallup went 3-2.
“Playing the bigger 5A schools and seeing some really good pitchers really helped us out,” he said. “We had two losses and we played good. We played our game. Even though we came up with the two losses, we played really well.
“We learned a lot from the Cleveland game,” he said. “We figured out what we needed to do and it’s going to help us out for the rest of the season. We always have to work on the little stuff.”
Spencer said that tough schedule reaffirmed his assessment about this year’s squad.
“I think our defense and our pitching is strong,” he said. “We also have some good hitters so it’s been a combination of the three that makes us tough to beat.
“It’s finally coming together and, you know, it didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “The girls have been working hard during the fall and during preseason and it shows in what we are doing.”
At the plate, Spencer said anyone on his lineup could put the ball in play. In 16 games, Gallup has scored 201 runs on 213 hits.
As a team, they are batting .472 with four batters hitting above .500 headed by junior Taylor Morgan.
The Gallup outfielder has a team-best .674 batting average ahead of Haines (.646) and freshman Stephanesha Charlie (.558) and senior Katelyn Pablo (.500).
“We’re solid all the way through,” said Gallup senior Savannah Watson, who has a .400 batting average. “We have good lefties and righties. The lefties know how to get on base with their slapping and our righties come through and bring them in with our hitting.”
As for Haines, Watson said she brings a lot to the team and they’re happy to have her.
“She’s grown so much and she works hard,” Watson said. “We can rely on her to finish out the game.”
With Haines taking over the as the ace, the Gallup coach said he didn’t want to take away from what his veteran pitchers – junior Katherine Lincoln and sophomore Mikayla Denezpi – has done to elevate the program.
“They built the foundation to where we are at now with our offense and defense,” Spencer said Lincoln and Denezpi. “We set up our offense and defense behind those two and they did a great job. Kat was our ace the last three years and Mikayla pitched right behind her.”
Spencer said Denezpi is still pitching while Lincoln is taking some time off as she has moved to second base this year.
“She’s taking a break for now but she’s going to get back into our routine,” he said. “She’s starting second and she loves that spot.”
With Haines, Spencer said, the Bengals are more suited to retire players.
With an ERA of 1.71, Haines has given up 24 runs on 50 hits and she has recorded 68 strikeouts in 53.1 innings of work.
“With SJ, she’s more of a strikeout pitcher,” he said. “We had a few teams hit off of her but the defense that we have is backing her up.”
Haines, who has five pitches in her repertoire, says she not fazed at all in her role as the team’s ace pitcher.
“I’ve been doing this a long time so there is no pressure,” Haines said. “Growing up I’ve been playing softball and with the defense having my back there is no pressure. My teammates are always picking me up even when someone hits a homerun. I feel very comfortable with them.”
In last week’s doubleheader with Bloomfield, Haines gave up one run on three hits as the Bengals run-ruled the Bobcats 15-1 in three innings.
In the second game, she closed out the game pitching three innings as Gallup completed the sweep with a 12-7 win.
“I switched up some players in that second game so the chemistry was not there,” Spencer said. “I think it kind of threw everyone off but I wanted to get our subs in.”
The sweep over Bloomfield improved Gallup’s District 1-4A record to 6-0, as they will close out the regular season with Shiprock on Friday and Aztec on June 18.
“I can’t predict that but we’re just taking it one game at a time,” Spencer said when asked if his team is destined to win the district crown. “Right now we’re focused on Shiprock and I know they’re struggling right now but we’re going to treat that game like they’re the top team in the district.”
As for Aztec, Spencer said the Tigers have been the flagship program for the district the past couple of seasons and he’s anticipating a tough matchup with them.
“They’ve been the top dog for quite a while so we have a lot of respect for them,” he said. “We’re going to try and take that crown away from them.”