Zias seek turnaround

By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico

Samantha Davis was part of a successful high school softball program at Piedra Vista, winning back-to-back Class 4A state championships her junior and senior years.

She figured she’d had enough softball at that point, passing on a chance to play at Eastern New Mexico University last year and instead becoming a full-time student at the University of New Mexico.

Eventually, she realized how much she missed playing. Zias coach Amber Daniel offered Davis another chance to join the team, and she took it.

“I thought I was done, but I realized how much I missed it,” said Davis, who is competing with returning starter Michelle Anderson for playing time at catcher. “We (she and Daniel) kind of kept in touch.

“I’m so grateful to be here. I feel like we have really good team chemistry. I see a successful season ahead of us if we keep working hard.”

Anderson, a junior from Sierra Vista, Ariz., who batted .284 with 19 RBIs last spring, has been a good teacher, Davis said.

“I think we work well together,” she said. “She’s a great catcher to learn from.”

The Zias, who open the 2009 season today against Florida-based Rollins and St. Mary’s in the St. Mary’s Classic at San Antonio, went 28-28 overall last season, including 6-12 for fifth in the seven-team Lone Star Conference South. This spring, they were picked in a tie for fifth with West Texas A&M.

“We played well in (pre-conference games) last year,” said Daniel, who has been with the program for most of the last five years and took over in March 2007 when Armando Quiroz resigned. “We’ve really focused on attitude this year. I think this is one of the most talented teams I’ve coached here.”

The Zias put together a school-record 10-game winning streak early last season, but suffered a through an 0-9 start in LSC South play and never fully recovered.

Daniel, a former Division I college player at Baylor, said she has added only four players to this year’s roster while some who could have been back aren’t.

“We’ve had some losses, but I want girls who want to be here,” she said. “That’s the most important thing.

“Offensively, I think we’re going to be fighting for a conference title battle again. Everyone can hit for power, and we have some speed. Our pitching and defense are coming along.”

In addition to Anderson, others who saw regular duty in 2008 are senior third baseman Nikki Darnell, junior second baseman Rebecca Quinones, pitcher-first baseman Kristen Cruickshank, center fielder Laura Thompson and left fielder Alex Mayo Otis. Quinones batted .359 with 35 RBIs, Mayo Otis had a .366 batting average with 33 RBIs and Thompson hit .353 with 30 stolen bases last season.

Cruickshank batted .273 while going 13-10 with a 2.39 earned run average in the circle.

Kimberly Crouse, a junior college transfer, will split time in the circle and at first base. Daniel is also looking for pitching help from senior Brittany Regallado and from Mayo Otis, who pitched 39 2/3 innings for the Zias as a freshman in 2007.

“Kimberly Crouse is a great addition to our staff,” Daniel said. “The four we have are going to be competitive.”

Redshirt junior Cara Brydle will serve in an infield utility role, while other outfield candidates include senior Jessica Pacheco and sophomores Josette Aguirre and Kassandra Sanchez.