best preps

Bobcats senior pitcher Emily Darwin sends a fastball toward her Payson opponent during last week’s game in Benson.

BENSON — Memories from as far back as she can remember are filled with the sights and sounds of the various athletic arenas she has competed in, including volleyball and basketball courts and softball fields. For Benson High School senior Emily Darwin, they are all part of the sports she loves and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Darwin does admit that even though each of the sports she plays holds a special place in her heart, softball has taken over the No. 1 spot.

“I’ve been playing sports ever since I was 4 years old when my parents put me in T-ball,” she said. “It was my sophomore year that softball became my favorite sport. Pitching and hitting were both so exhilarating to me. There was just something about softball that felt different.”

It wasn’t that Darwin didn’t excel in her other two sports — far from that. Since her freshman year she has competed on the varsity teams, earning high school regional and state honors in all three.

In Arizona Interscholastic Association Division 2A volleyball she was awarded First Team All-Region and state honorable mention her freshman year, All-Region Second Team her sophomore year, All-State honorable mention her junior year and First Team All-Region her senior year.

In AIA Division 2A basketball she earned All-Region Second Team her freshman year; All-Conference First Team, All-Region First Team and Regional Player of the year her sophomore year; All-Region First Team and Regional Defensive Player of the Year her junior year; and All-Conference First Team, Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and Regional Player of the Year her senior year.

For AIA Division 2A softball she received All-Conference First Team and Conference Offensive Player of the Year, All-Region First Team and Regional Offensive Player of the Year her freshman year; All-Conference First Team and Conference Offensive Player of the Year as well as All-Region First Team and Regional Offensive Player of the Year her sophomore year. With her junior softball season ending early due to COVID, no regional or state awards were given.

Darwin knows there are many qualities that contribute to being a good athlete, including sportsmanship, having a positive attitude, being a team player and not giving up.

“My goals are to always have a positive mindset, never let my teammates down, never give up and always do my best,” she said. “I also need to be true to myself and not let others influence me in negative ways.”

Her high school softball coaches see these positive qualities in their senior pitcher.

“Emily is one of the fiercest competitors that I have ever had the pleasure of coaching,” Benson coach Brittney Batten said. “She is not only an exceptional, driven athlete with limitless potential but she is growing into a great teammate as well.”

“Emily is unbelievably talented and works hard, which is a good combination,” pitching coach Ernie Batten said. “She is pleasant, easy to coach and takes instruction well. She is the most gifted athlete I’ve ever had the pleasure to coach. I’m going to miss her like crazy when she graduates.”

“Rarely do you come across an athlete as talented as Emily,” assistant coach Bert Cardenas said. “I’ve been coaching her since she was in fifth grade and I’ve seen how much she has grown as an athlete and as a person. She always wants to get better, doing the extra things it takes — especially when you’re as talented as she is, that’s impressive.”

Darwin’s biggest inspiration since she started playing sports those many years ago is her father, Jeff.

“My dad is definitely my role model,” Emily said. “He’s played at that higher level. He’s always there supporting me and our family.”

Emily is the daughter of Jeff and Nancy Darwin. Her sister, Jamey, is a freshman who competes in volleyball and basketball and is the softball team’s manager. Nancy is a Benson alumnus who participated in volleyball, basketball, and track and field. Jeff played high school basketball, football, track and field, and baseball at Bonham High School in Bonham, Texas. He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 47th round out of high school but instead decided to take a college baseball scholarship to play at Alvin Community College in Alvin, Texas.

He was drafted again after his first year of college in the 13th round, again by the Mariners. This time he chose to sign a professional baseball contract. He competed professionally for 10 years, making his major league debut in 1994 as a pitcher for the Mariners.

Emily has competed in many softball leagues. She competed in summer travel leagues with the Firecrackers and the Desert Thunder under the instruction of coach Shannon Woolridge.

Darwin soon will be competing as a member of the Yavapai College Roughriders’ softball team.

“I’m excited for Emily to be going to Yavapai,” her mother said. “It’s not that far from home. We really like the coaches. She’ll be getting a new perspective, meeting new people — we feel good about her choice.”

“Yavapai is a good fit for Emily,” Jeff Darwin added. “Going to a junior college from a smaller school is a good choice.”

Emily’s future Yavapai coaches are looking forward to having her as a member of their Roughriders’ softball team.

Yavapai pitching coach Erika Bennett, a 2008 Buena High School graduate who competed in softball at Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida, believes Emily will be a positive addition to their program.

“Emily is an all-around talented athlete,” Bennett said. “She has great velocity. We’re looking forward to having Emily as a member of our team. The sky’s the limit for her.”

Yavapai head softball coach Doug Eastman believes “sports can take you anywhere you want to go if you take the chance.”

“Emily is full of confidence,” Eastman said. “She is a multidimensional player who will be a strong asset to our team. We are excited about her being in our next year’s lineup.”

For Eastman, it’s more than just softball techniques and strategies that he instills in his athletes.

“We push academics,” he said. “It’s not just about athletics, it’s also about getting an associate’s degree.”

As a future member of the Roughriders’ softball team, Darwin will not only be competing on the softball fields but studying in the classrooms to earn her associate’s degree. Her plans include teaching English and coaching or pursuing veterinary science.

For now, however, Darwin is competing in her final softball season as a Benson Bobcat. She and her teammates and their coaches are dedicated to working together to achieve their team goals and to be the best that they can be.