When Desert Edge softball pitcher Zoe Zoellner graduated last spring, the Scorpions lost their main weapon on the mound.
The senior appeared in 20 games, recording wins in 17 of them and pitching 73 strikeouts in 91.1 innings en route to a 5A playoff berth. Behind her in the lineup were two freshmen, who, as part of the new group, have seemingly taken the reins over successfully.
The two girls, now sophomores Oryanna Lugo and Kharlee Barker, have combined with other new arrivals like freshman Catalina Sanchez to create a confidence in their pitching staff.
First-year coach Rob Iler said it’s rare to have so many young girls ready to play well at the varsity level.
“We’ve got four girls who we’re comfortable throwing in any given game. We’re fortunate to have that many with experience at that age. I’m fortunate to show up to a school in my first year and have that core,” Iler said.
Lugo, who Iler will likely ride as the main starter in 2019, had recorded 18 strikeouts in just her first 13.2 innings. She said she had a chance to play club softball for years with Zoellner, as well as watch her work on the mound for Desert Edge in Lugo’s freshman season.
Even while Zoellner pitches at Yavapai College, the two maintain a close relationship and often talk about pitching strategy and what it takes to win at the high school level.
“We still talk to this day, and we catch up a lot. A big thing she told me is when I walk somebody or let someone get a hit, to keep my head level and don’t show emotion, so I can be confident on the mound,” Lugo said.
Although just a freshman, Sanchez is already fitting in with the roster. She said the team has strong chemistry. Now, the focus is on improving, especially on the mound.
“We get to grow with each other for years. We all want to be good for a while, but we have to keep growing if that’s going to happen,” Sanchez said.
The majority of the team is still underclassmen, not just the pitchers. Through four games, only three seniors recorded an at-bat. Iler is looking forward to spending multiple years with his talented group, and guiding them in its development.
However, he wants to send the seniors out on a good note, and is looking to have another winning season with the Scorpions, regardless of combined age.
“We want to have success this year. If things go right for us, we can see if we’ll make it into that final eight and make a run when we get there. That’s the goal,” Iler said.