The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Rams seeking shot at 4A softball title


March 15, 2018

Eric Murray

Portales' Devyn Lopez stands in the batting cage, awaiting a pitch in Wednesday's practice. The Rams open their softball season at home on Saturday afternoon, when they host Lovington in a doubleheader.

PORTALES - All you need is a chance.

That's the unofficial motto that first-year Portales softball coach Nathan Dodge is using for the Rams' 2018 campaign.

Dodge, just the second coach in program history after 18 years under Robbie Crowley, has seen his Rams enter the state tournament as a top three seed the last two seasons, only to fall short of a championship game appearance.

"Our goal is to make it to the state championship and go from there. We gotta have a chance, we don't have a chance if we're not in it," Dodge explained. "The good thing is we got five (players) from basketball. They were on that state championship team and they know what it's like. They know what it's like to get it done under pressure and I hope that helps us for softball, as well. It's a culture thing and once you've done it, 'Hey, it's no big deal, let's do it again.'"

For Portales, who opens its season Saturday with a home doubleheader against Lovington, catching what Dodge calls the "title bug" from the basketball team will take everybody stepping up and doing anything the team needs.

Luckily for Dodge, he returns eight seniors, who are all expected to play in the field. Dodge says that this team is very unselfish, which should make a run at a state title very possible.

Thus far, Dodge is unsure as to who will play what position — other than pitcher. With eight seniors, there's plenty of good hitting returning, led by Devyn Lopez. Lopez, who will likely play either second or third base, batted .338 last year, along with three home runs, 23 RBIs, 37 runs scored and 11 stolen bases.

"She can bunt, drag, hit. We've got a ton of seniors that can do a lot of things," Dodge said. "(But) high expectations are for Devyn Lopez. Probably our best hitter, but I don't know, since we haven't played yet."

Kimberlie Hay, meanwhile, batted .320 with 21 RBIs and came up with some key hits as a junior. Look for fellow seniors Sarah Lovato (.306, two triples, 14 steals) and Alexis Garcia (19 RBIs, six steals) to shine in '18, as well.

With all of that hitting, Portales doesn't necessarily need to be labeled as a "small ball team," despite 96 stolen bases last year. Dodge, however, does expect more bunting, but will determine the strategy as the game goes.

Although there's an abundance of seniors to lead the Rams this year, one of the biggest contributions in '17 came from freshman Wendy Baeza.

Baeza batted .407 with 26 RBIs in 22 games, but more importantly, she was the primary pitcher for the Rams. A year ago, she went 15-6 with a 3.52 ERA, striking out 166 batters and walking just 54 in 125 1/3 innings pitched.

She'll be joined by fellow sophomore Madisyn Purcell, who went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in just one appearance, but she's expected to see more innings this year.

"Wendy's fastball is hard, and then she throws a riseball that's really good. We're also working on her curve, so I think having three pitches, or four pitches - even a changeup or offspeed, will make her really tough to hit," Dodge explained. "Madisyn is just fastball and changeup right now, not too much movement. I think we're looking for more of the change of speed going from Wendy to Madisyn. Madisyn throws a little softer, but hey, (you can) get them out on the frontside and (make them) hit a lot of groundballs."

The Rams entered last year's state tournament as the No. 3 seed, after previously being the No. 2 seed in 2016.

Look for Cobre, Silver and Robertson to all be tough again this year, making life difficult on the Rams, once again. Portales went 11-1 in District 4-4A last year, but Dodge knows somebody can always sneak up on you.

"It seems like Hope's good. They've already beat some people and they always got somebody who can throw a good fastball and changeup, and we gotta adjust to that," Dodge said. "Sometimes you got a team that's got a good pitcher and they're with you, and you don't expect it. So, it kinda depends on pitching."


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