When Rich Stringer took the job as head coach at Buckeye Verrado about five years ago, the softball field looked very little like it does today. The school was still in its infancy.
Now the field is lighted, has green backdrops along the outfield fences, a large batter’s eye in center field, two lighted brick dugouts. The school groundskeeper makes sure the outfield grass is nice and lush while Stringer manicures the dirt in the infield, making it almost as smooth as glass.
It has been a labor of love for Stringer. He also has logged many hours putting his team together.
Last season, the Vipers began to show signs of strength. They entered the Division II state tournament as the No. 9 seed, but went two-and-out in the double-elimination event.
That obviously was not pleasant, but it helped his players gain experience and maturity, gave them an edge.
They are putting it to good use in 2014. They entered Monday’s (April 21) play as the top team in power points and showed why in an evening showdown with visiting Glendale Cactus.
Verrado spotted Cactus a 3-0 lead, came back to tie it and then scored three runs in the sixth for a 6-3 victory.
Verrado raised its record to 22-2, while No. 11 Cactus slipped to 19-8.
“Our girls did a real good job of staying focused,’’ Stringer said.
The teams zipped through two scoreless innings and then Cactus got on the board first when Delani Sipila bashed a three-run homer to left field with two outs in the third.
Verrado quickly got the runs back in the bottom of the third. The Vipers scored on a pair of errors, a bases-loaded walk and an RBI groundout.
Isabel Flores led off the Verrado sixth with a double off the left-field fence that nearly went over. She later scored, anyway, as the Vipers combined two other hits with an error and a walk.
Cactus loaded the bases in the top of the seventh, but Verrado pitcher Morgan Brown escaped by getting the final out when she speared a soft shot in the air. She gave up eight hits on the night.
Stringer said Brown wanted to return to the state tournament for her senior season and said, “I can’t tell you how hard she has worked to give herself and the team that opportunity. I am very proud of her.’’
The team has three games left to wrap up the regular season and then will go into the state tournament. The Vipers will do their best to avoid a repeat of last season.
“We have to continue to work,’’ Stringer said.