Ed Petruska-Contributing editor Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — When playing a softball schedule of 60-plus games, pitching depth goes a long way toward determining a team's success.
Last year, Central Arizona College was forced to rely on just one reliable hurler. The Vaqueras still reached the championship round of the Division I Region 1 tournament due in large part to an offense that batted a cumulative .395 and averaged 7.4 runs per game.
This season, "we have four reliable pitchers, which is exciting," fourth-year coach Shelby Davis said. "I have confidence in all of them. Any one of them could be our No. 1 starter."
And with four of its top hitters returning, Central figures to once again be potent at the plate.
"This group is athletic and very talented," Davis said. "It's a matter of (each player) finding their role and being committed to their role. They're going to have to love working hard."
The Vaqueras, who went 38-25 last season, open the 2019 campaign with five games in Henderson, Nevada — three on Friday and two on Saturday. They have four more nonconference games the following week before starting their 48-game Arizona Community College Athletic Conference schedule with a Feb. 5 home doubleheader against Glendale.
First-team NJCAA All-American Makiya Thomas switches from third base to shortstop this year. She led the ACCAC with a .520 average, drove in 74 runs and had 35 extra-base hits (21 doubles, six triples, eight home runs) along with 22 stolen bases.
Also back are center fielder Alyia Ewell, right fielder Zoe Collins and catcher Madison Besaw. Ewell batted .436 with 64 RBIs, 37 extra-base hits (23 doubles, five triples, nine homers) and 15 steals. Collins had a .392 average with 12 RBIs, 10 extra-base hits (three doubles, six triples, one homer) and 14 steals. Besaw batted .314 with 44 RBIs, 23 extra-base hits (16 doubles, two triples, five home runs) and four steals.
The other projected starters are freshman Evelyn Roman at first base, Farinas at second if she's not pitching, freshmen Nicole Ley or Michaela Kittredge at third and sophomore transfer Justeen Vasquez or freshman Samantha Domingo in left.
Freshman Ariday Lopez will start at second when Farinas is pitching, and Isabel Gallo likely will see plenty of action as the No. 2 catcher. Freshman Sonia Solis is vying for playing time in the outfield.
Central finished fourth out of the ACCAC's five Division I teams last year, beating out Pima (35-23) by two games for the final playoff spot. Eastern Arizona (54-12) advanced to the NJCAA Tournament by winning the region tourney as the No. 2 seed. Top-seeded Yavapai went 50-12 and third-seeded Arizona Western posted a 40-21 record.
Only two of the ACCAC's eight Division II teams had winning records — Phoenix (52-10) and Paradise Valley (32-19). Phoenix reached the D-II national championship game, losing 18-2 to Jones County, Mississippi.
Yavapai and Eastern both went 40-8 against ACCAC opponents, followed by Phoenix (41-7), Western (34-14), Paradise Valley (31-17), CAC (28-20) and Pima (26-22).
Davis said getting through the grind of the season with a high success rate will boil down to "pitching and leadership from our sophomores. We have to have that drive to be the most competitive team on the field every day."