Lady Vipers looking to make next step

 

Verrado came close to title in 2014

Verrado’s softball team had its best season to date last year, making it to Division II’s final four before getting knocked out of the state tournament.

The Lady Vipers lost five seniors from that team, but have added three freshmen that coach Rich Stringer feels like can make an immediate impact, he said.

“We’ve been really blessed, we’ve had a couple or three [freshmen] every year that have been pretty talented,” Stringer said. “Obviously this group of seniors, many of them have been starting since they were freshmen, so they have quite a bit of experience. This is a special group, so I’m going to really hate to lose them.”

Seven of the 13 rostered players this year are seniors. Two of them, twins Shea Smith and Sierra Smith, are catalysts.

“Shea and Sierra Smith have been three-time all-state shortstop and center fielder, respectively,” Stringer said. “They hold pretty much every offensive record in school history. They’re just amazing athletes and even better human beings.”

Shea batted .540 last year, leading the team in average, runs (54), hits (61) and extra-base hits (20). She also had 35 RBI and stolen 13 bases. Sierra hit .500 and led the team in RBI (42), triples (seven) and stolen bases (20). This season, they’re each going to have to pitch more frequently now that Morgan Brown graduated.

“They’re up to the challenge and they’re going to do a great job,” Stringer said.

The other half of Verrado’s starting battery, catcher Kaylah Hampton, also graduated. Stringer wasn’t sure what he was going to do about the catching vacancy, but freshman Hailey Raio has stepped in.

“I was in a world of hurt to be honest,” Stringer said. “Fortunately, we had this young lady come in and it looks like she’s going to be able to step up and be our No. 1 catcher, so we’re excited about it.”

Another impactful senior returning for the Lady Vipers is third baseman Alex Sonoqui. She batted .391 last year with 11 doubles, two triples and 29 RBI.

Other returning seniors are outfielder Stephanie Pinson and utility players Vanessa Leon and Casey Stringer.

The Lady Vipers also get back a senior who didn’t play last year in Lauren Serrato. Verrado’s starting second baseman as a freshman and sophomore, Serrato didn’t play last season because of a knee injury.

“We’re getting her back, and she looks great, is swinging the bat really well, we expect good things from her this season,” Stringer said. “We’re just really fortunate. It’s really a deep senior class.”

Having Serrato back also gives Stringer some flexibility with returning sophomore Katelyn Acton, who filled in at second base last season. Acton batted .426 with 10 doubles and five triples, driving in 30 runs and scoring 39.

“Both of them can play second, both of them can play outfield,” Stringer said. “I really see Lauren playing a number of positions this year. We’re going to move her around to fill holes here and there, and with the twins pitching we’re going to have to call on one, or both of them, to play center field from time to time. The ability to play multiple positions, that just about every one of these young ladies has, is a huge luxury for a coach.”

Verrado has some great pieces, it’s just a matter of if it all comes together.

“I think we’re going to be as competitive as we’ve been in the past,” Stringer said. “If a couple things go our way, who knows, you may see us back at Rose Mofford [Softball Complex].”

Growing success

Verrado was 28-4-1 last year, losing two of those games in the state tournament. The Lady Vipers lost to eventual state champion Tucson Ironwood Ridge in the winner’s bracket quarterfinals, then Tucson Canyon del Oro in the loser’s bracket semifinals. That experience has made this senior class hungry to end their high school careers on top, Stringer said.

“They were the best team in the state last year in my opinion, and I am biased,” Stringer said. “We did beat [Mesa] Red Mountain in a tournament, 1-0, and they won the Division I state title. We beat Ironwood Ridge in the same tournament, and they won the Division II state title. So we had the talent to win it all, we just simply couldn’t push through when it counted. So this year, I know this senior group would love to go out on top, and we’re going to do what we can to get there.”

Verrado opens the season Feb. 25 in the Lion Country Classic tournament hosted by Red Mountain. The Lady Vipers play Gilbert Perry and Glendale Deer Valley at 1 and 3 p.m., respectively, at Mesa Skyline High School.

Verrado’s other tournament this season is the Xavier College Prep tourney at Rose Mofford Softball Complex.

“We feel they give us the best chance to prepare for May and the playoffs,” Stringer said of those tourneys. “We’re playing very good teams in both tournaments, and that’s what we want.”

Casey Pritchard can be reached by email at cpritchard@westvalleyview.com. Follow on Twitter @CaseyonSports and Instagram @ViewSports.