USSSA state softball: Smokin earns first championship

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Smokin hadn’t won a state softball championship since Priscilla Sanchez formed the team about 15 years ago, and didn’t expect to win one last weekend.

The Clovis-based squad not only won the Class E title at Guy Leeder Complex and Spencer Field, but went virtually unchallenged through four games in the double-elimination event.

“We were shocked,” said Sanchez, the team’s coach and second baseman. “We’ve been playing softball for a long time, and that’s the first time we’ve won a state tournament.”

Meantime, in Class D, Cannon Varsity Women breezed through the winners bracket before settling for second place in the finals with 18-3 and 18-6 losses to the Hobbs Lady Astros.

The tournament had to wait out about a four-hour delay for rain on Saturday afternoon, resuming around 6:30 p.m. with games at Guy Leeder and Spencer Field. The tournament went to a “one-pitch” format — meaning each player gets only one pitch — on Saturday night to catch up.

Clovis Softball Association director Roger Jackson said Duane Fuller, who coaches men’s and women’s teams in the Clovis league, and some of his male players helped get fields ready at Guy Leeder, while Clovis Girls Athletic Association president Robert Tyler got two fields at Spencer in shape to play.

Sanchez said she thought her team would do well going into the event.

“I just thought we were going to play the best we could and see where we could get,” said Sanchez, who turns 60 in October and gets coaching help from her son, Mark. “The girls just came out hitting.”

Two other 50-plus players are on the team — her sister, Dolly Valdez, 56, and Stella Gonzalez, 51 — and have played with Smokin since it was formed.

Smokin had one close game, a 7-4 win over Clovis-based Aventura to reach Sunday’s winners finals. Smokin routed Ruidoso Fire ‘n’ Ice 10-0 in that game before beating the same team 16-4 to take the title.

“That was a good team,” Sanchez said of Fire ‘n’ Ice. “They had a few girls who I thought could’ve hit it over the fence.”

Cannon also had a relatively easy time — until it reached the championship round. There it absorbed 18-6 and 18-3 losses to the Hobbs Lady Astros, who roared back from a first-round loss with seven consecutive wins.

“They came out stroking the ball, and we just fell a little short in that area,” Cannon coach Jessica Belford said.

The Cannon team is four years old and has, according to Jackson, made considerable progress over that time.

Belford said she wasn’t surprised to see her squad contend for the championship.

“I knew all along we had a really good team,” she said. “I was glad to see us finally get it all together.

“I was more surprised by the run-rule (losses) we got than (reaching the finals).”

Cannon is planning to participate in the Armed Forces World Tournament Aug. 18-20 in Panama City, Fla. Meantime, Sanchez said her squad is considering a trip to a USSSA national event in Lubbock around Labor Day.