Jazlyn Felix

Sophomore Jazlyn Felix moves into a key role at shortstop as a young leader for the Willcox softball varsity.

WILLCOX — A mixture of youth and experience could give the Willcox softball varsity reason to rise this Spring.

They have reached postseason the past three seasons, even reaching the final four at state in 2018, but the Cowgirls would like to be better than last year’s fourth place spot in region.

“We started out a little rough but had a pretty good season,” coach Trevor Ward said of his team’s 7-9 record that included a 7-5 mark in region. They lost to four top-ten teams outside their region but face the same tough schedule this year.

“I think, with the help of freshmen coming in and the return of players from last year, we’ll be better this year,” the coach said.

Freshman Braxton Hammonds is expected to jump into a starter’s spot at second base, vacated by sophomore Jazlyn Felix, who moves into the shortstop hole vacated by Gabby Acosta, the lone starter to graduate.

Granted, “Gabby was our top hitter and fielder and will be hard to replace,” Ward said, but another freshman starting addition should salve the wound. The coach expects Jessie Gonzalez to step in to the left field starting slot and become an able second starter on the mound behind junior Maddy Tunks.

“Of course we have the return of senior Tapanga Alexander in center field, senior Daniella Pando at catcher, junior Ryleigh Terry at first base, and senior returner Serena Villegas at third base,” the coach said.

“Obviously Benson will be the toughest region opponent this year. They graduated a few last year but they still have junior Emily Darwin, who is an absolute beast on the mound,” Ward said.

“I think second place will be between us and Morenci, with Bisbee surprising some people. Thatcher lost a lot of players and may struggle a little bit.”

A jump from fourth to second in region is a reasonable goal that could net them a top-eight state ranking and tournament bye like it did Morenci last year.

“With the incoming freshmen and returning seniors and juniors, we’re going to be good,” the coach said.

Ward will also get plenty of help with former state champion coach Mike Patterson coaching the outfielders, while two men, Gerald Kimzey and Larry Gabbert, coach the pitchers. Plus former head coach Jack Kortsen will coach hitting and Jan Kortsen will lead the junior varsity as part of a tight-knit staff of leaders.

“Another way I think we’ll overcome struggles last year is by playing a lot of tournament games in March, as we’re going to the Cool Nights tournament at Apollo in Phoenix and to the Douglas Annual Bulldog tournament.

“So by playing a lot of games early, hopefully we’re in shape by the time we get into the later season because we’ve seen enough pressure situations to where we don’t fold late or at state.”

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