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‘Playing some good ball’

SANTA FE, N.M. — The numbers for the Santa Fe Indian School softball team are so gaudy they are hard to believe.

A team batting average of .421, leading to scoring 10 runs a game. A team earned-run average of 1.72 – led by Ariana Marcotte’s 1.56, which is second in the state, and Alexis Garcia’s 2.02, which is fourth.

The result is an unsurprising 10-1 record, with a loss to rapidly improving Capital as the only blemish so far.

“We’ve been having a good season,” said first-year coach Oliver Torres. “We had a hiccup against Capital, but other than that, we’ve been playing some good ball.”

Good ball indeed as the record includes a doubleheader sweep of highly regarded Class 4A rival West Las Vegas.

The players attribute their success this season to an emphasis on team bonding that Torres instilled, the experience of a quick two-game journey into the state tournament last season, and the batting-practice pitching of junior varsity coach and SFIS alum Jessica Tsosie, who pitched at Haskell Indian Nations University.

“She pitches to us frequently,” Marcotte said. “She pitches her junk to us so we can recognize pitches.”

It seems to be working well, Torres said.

“I tell them if you can hit off coach, you can hit off anybody,” he said. “Our confidence has risen another level.”

Junior shortstop Caitlyn Cruz has been one of the biggest beneficiaries, crushing the ball to the tune of .621, ninth best in the state.

“I first started playing in fifth grade, so I started kind of late,” she said. “But I’ve really improved, especially from freshman year. My hitting has gotten way better and my fielding has gotten way better. When I first started getting so many RBI and base hits, I thought that was incredible I was able to do it. I think everybody has that kind of doubt in yourself. And then you can do it if you put it my mind to it.”

One of the team leaders, Cruz is the type of player who has the desire and ability to play at the next level, Torres said.

“She’s been hitting the ball really well this year,” he said. “She had a great tournament for our (SFIS) tournament and was MVP. We played Hope in the finals and she went 4-for-4. She was finding those gaps out there in the outfield. She’s another one of the girls who has been standing out and accepted her leadership role.”

Torres said he knew the team was loaded from watching it last season, so the success the lady Braves are having has not really been a surprise.

“I knew that the expectations were going to be somewhat high because they did have a good year,” he said. “I just told the girls, it’s going to be a change. A different coaching system and a different way of doing things. They’re going to have to learn my ways and my style. It’s been a learning process and hopefully we’re all on the same page.”

The adjustment was a little difficult at first, Marcotte said, because they all were used to the old way of doing things. But as the preseason turned into games, the team bought into the success.

“He told us he’s there to help us to win,” she said. “He keeps reiterating that to us. That helped smooth everything over. He reminds us he is there for the team.”

Breaking bread together also has helped, Marcotte said.

“Before every game, we have pasta nights where the whole team gets together, someone will bring pasta and salad. It’s a team bonding, with him and the other coaches as well, just to get to know each well. We’ve become a family on and off the field. I think that’s really helped getting to know one another. The way we communicate off the field helps us on the field.”

It also helped seeing seven-time defending state champion Silver in the state tournament last season, to show how far the Braves still have to go.

“Last year, we made it to the top six in the state and lost against Silver,” Cruz said. “I think this year, we know what to expect. Last year was our first time in the state tournament and it was kind of surreal. This year, we know what to expect. We have that desire to attack right away.”