|Youngker runner Kanani Jackson beats the throw to Bradshaw Mountain catcher Tina Fritts by a step to slide home safely during a 2013 scrimmage in Prescott Valley.|
Trib File Photo/Cheryl Hartz
Sharon Haese led the Bradshaw Mountain Lady Bears to consecutive state titles at the Class 3A level in 1996 and 1997. Now that she 's head coach again, she intends to snap a four-year playoff drought.
Haese served as varsity assistant for three years under Janet Jensen, who moved to the Phoenix area last summer. She has worked with many of Bradshaw's current players in the off-seasons. She also guided nearly the entire varsity through fall ball.
Division2, Section 5 Bradshaw began the season at Anthems's annual Sun Blast Tournament this past weekend.
"We're ready," the enthused and passionate Haese said before the first tourney. "With Janet leaving, I was not going to leave the girls to anybody else's hands after spending this much time with them. It's a labor of love."
The Lady Bears last reached the state championship game in 2006 with coach Joe Cappelli, finishing as runner-up to Arcadia in the former Class 4A, Division 2.
This spring's squad possesses experience from top to bottom. Bradshaw has five seniors, six juniors and two underclassmen on its 13-player roster.
"There's so much leadership right now, this is just fantastic," said Haese, whose first stint as coach went from 1996-99.
Seniors Chandler Schauwecker and Shauna Coyne are vying for first base. Haese said both girls have decent gloves, but that she'll give the full-time job to the best hitter.
Versatile senior Lacie Denny and junior Madison Rubio, two three-year starters, will split time at second since Rubio's the squad's ace pitcher.
Rubio's strength is her curveball. She spins a high curve, a regular curve and a drop curve, with the idea of forcing hitters into pop-ups.
"The pitchers do really good at hitting their spots and giving the fielders an opportunity to field it," starting senior catcher Tina Fritts said. "Our fielders are really great at doing all the little things - getting the ball in quick, fielding it with no problems."
Junior Nichole Paterno gets the nod at shortstop, with freshman Haley Young as backup. Senior Brittany Flanigan, another third-year starter, is at the hot corner.
Freshman Shelbi Audsley also will see time at second and third base.
At catcher, Fritts returns as the starter after missing last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Fritts plays a major role for the Lady Bears, both behind the plate and at the dish.
Now in her third season on varsity, Fritts said she's grateful for her teammates, who supported her during rehab.
"Being with them actually helped me a lot, wanting to get back," she said. "We like to have fun. (But) we know when to be serious and we know when to have fun."
Fritts, who batted cleanup before her injury, slides back into that spot again this spring.
"She's about 95 percent (healthy), and we're happy to have her back," Haese said.
In the outfield, Tia Randa's in center, while Annie Clifford moves from right to left field, creating room for Amber Pehringer (Bagdad High transfer) and Hannah Fouss to compete for starts in right.
Randa said she has a positive feeling about the 2014 club because of its players' experience.
"We've been playing together a really long time, so there's automatic friendships that are happening that is just awesome to start the seasons with," she said. "We do a good job of getting on each other, but constructive criticizing and helping each other out."
Haese wants her girls to "embrace being very aggressive on the base paths and at the plate." The Lady Bears can play the short game and hit for power, she said.
"We want to keep them (opposing teams) off-balance and we want to score first and put runs up there immediately," Haese said.
Bradshaw will lead off with Randa, a left-handed slapper, followed by Rubio, a bunt specialist with home-run strength.
In the three-hole is Paterno, another long-ball hitter. Fritts, who can drive the ball into the gaps, bats fourth. Denny (bunter with home-run power), Flanigan (strong slugger with an effective short game) and Clifford help fill out the order.
Bradshaw will have a stiffer schedule this season with fewer regional foes and more Phoenix-area opponents.
"I love the fact that we're going down to the Valley, playing some bigger schools," Haese said. "That's just going to make us better and get more power points going in. We expect to make the playoffs. We plan on being there."