By Mickey Winfield: PNT Sports Writer
One year ago, a young and somewhat inexperienced Lady Ram softball team exited the state softball tournament in the opening round.
When the Portales girls make their return to state today in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs in Farmington, they’ll be doing so with another year under their belt and an undefeated District 4-3A season in their pocket.
The Lady Rams begin their quest for a state championship today against District 1-3A runner up Fort Wingate (7-16, 7-2 district) at 2 p.m.
“I feel pretty good about it,” said senior pitcher Shareesa Nusser, today’s starting pitcher. “I feel pretty confident that we have a strong defense and a pretty strong offense to get it done at state. I feel like a lot of us seniors feel the same way.”
The Portales girls are nearly unanimous in the feeling that they went into state last year with shaky nerves — something they don’t want to repeat this year.
“I really believe that in the past they’ve been so tight that we couldn’t play to our abilities,” Portales head coach Robbie Crowley said. “The girls have been relaxed and they’ve been working hard. The atmosphere has been upbeat, they seem confident and ready to play — ready to go take care of business.”
Nusser echoed the coach’s sentiments.
“Since we’ve been there, we have a little bit of experience. We know what the atmosphere is going to be like, and how the other teams are going to be. Just going into it knowing how it’s all going to be set up and what to expect just makes us relax a little bit more and have a little bit more confidence,” Nusser said.
With Nusser and fellow senior Sasha Parker in the circle, pitching has been a Portales strength this season, but Crowley says team hitting has also become an asset, and it begins with leadoff hitter and senior second baseman Amanda Terry.
“When you lead off with Amanda, that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the team. It’s hard to get Amanda out,” Crowley said. “Our hitting has come a long way, and hopefully it’s at a point where we really want it to be and need it to be. Hopefully they’re peaking with their hitting right now, and they’re coming in with a lot of confidence.”
Crowley also notes that the team is happy to play a first round game, instead of receiving a bye.
“Honestly, we want to play that first game,” Crowley said. “I feel like we have the pitchers to play that first game and get those jitters out of our system with a team that’s ranked lower than us.”
The winner of today’s game faces fourth-seeded Las Vegas-Robertson in the quarterfinals Friday morning.
“I’m not worried about hitting, I’m not worried about fielding. My biggest concern is that they relax and play to their ability. They can’t play tight,” Crowley said. “We’re going to be a little nervous, and when you’re playing in the state tournament the nerves are there. But I think that with the experience that we have, they’ll settle down pretty quick.”