By: Joshua Gerard Gargiulo
PHOENIX - Softball coach Heinz Mueller is no stranger to All-star talent, having coached over 88 NJCAA All-Americans. But its Heinz’s latest squad is setting the precedent for Division II softball in 2019.
At 39-5, the “steam-rolling of opponents” comes quite often. They (Phoenix College) are averaging an astonishing 8.8 runs/game, loaded with power hitters of all sizes and speeds; the Lady Bears are averaging .412 average across the board, a number that gives them the best average in the conference. Furthermore, the Lady Bears have played 120 fewer innings than last season thanks to commanding wins calling for the “Run Rule” to come into effect.
Out of all (13) eligible batters, the lowest batting average amongst all-Lady Bears is .351 by Natalie Castro. Number double-zero has nothing to hang her head on, having put together twenty hits on 57 at-bats, with six RBI at the eight and nine spots in the order. The highest average on the team is Nicole Villa, batting around .465, but she has also only seen 47 plate appearances. More impressive is Catcher/3rd Baseman Sydney Smith, batting exactly .465 over 101 AB’s with 28 RBI and 8 HRs.
The “Home Run Power” is not always there, as most girls’ height ranges between 5’1 and 5’6, but Phoenix College has managed to ring-out 59 bombs, putting them third in the ACCAC. Two players, Hana Krosky and Brianna Hardy are in the Top 5 for HRs: Hana Krosky, 3rd with twelve; Briana Hardy T-5th with eleven.
Hits leaders Mackenzie Whitten and Haley Johnston, typically occupying the first & fourth spots in the batting order, have proved two of the most crucial pieces to PC’s heavy-scoring.
Mackenzie “Mack” Whitten plays a familiar tune for her walk-up song: Return of the Mack. As she steps into the box, the words sing “(You know that I’ll be back), here I am / (Return of the Mack), once again.” Upon her entry, it is clear who opponents are facing: An a-typical batter possessing a batting style that few (if any) players take in getting on base: The Slap Hit. Whitten usually finds the most creative ways to get on base in-game; her on-base speed only adds to an already-deadly player. With a team-leading 59 hits, the lead-off spot puts her in an interesting position having only 17 RBI but 42 runs. She is a major reason so many of her teammates RBI numbers are so high. Her supreme fielding skills have also attributed to many “Top plays" during the Bears' season.
Haley Johnston, a 6’2 infielder from Gilbert, carries a .459 average with nine home runs and 46 RBI. Despite being the team-leader in strike-outs, the second-year player is maintaining near-identical stats to her 2018 campaign; a season that saw Johnston finish with 18 HRs and 72 RBI. Although the typical fan may see a discrepancy, the Lady Bears have also played 120 fewer innings this season. Johnston often bats 4th or 5th in the order where she fits into the clean-up role best for Phoenix College. A player who teams game plan for; the script usually changes when Haley registers a base-clearing double.
In Coach Mueller’s 25-year reign, has he seen a more dominant pitcher than undefeated Brianna Hardy; other than last-year Utility player and South Dakota State player, Dustie Durham?
The Buena High School graduate currently has an ACCAC-best undefeated 23-0 record with 22 complete games, alongside a sub-one (best in conference) 0.94 ERA and 13.79 K/game ratio. The usual “Game One Starter,” she also has one save on her ledger. Surprisingly, her 23 wins are still four-short of ACCAC-leader Arizona Western’s Koryne Coddington. The three-tool player has also proved her worth on the offensive-end, posting a .389 batting average while second-on-the-team in home runs (11) and 37 RBI. An emergency Appendix removal has seen the superstar sidelined during the last week, a week that saw Phoenix College suffer its first loss in exactly one month.
In the fielding category, the Lady Bears out-perform others- by far. When it comes to errors, Phoenix College has 19 fewer errors than the next-best team. With three players tallying 100+ putouts, the team’s stellar fielding is heavily thanks to outfielders Natalie Castro, Mackenzie Whitten and Kara Golden; all of whom have made spectacular saves throughout the season. The ladies also carry a .962 fielding percentage with twenty-total double plays.
Heading into a key match-up with Arizona Western tomorrow, the Lady Bears sit two games clear of the second-placed Matadors. A (unlikely) sweep tomorrow in Yuma would still have the Bears ahead on a tie-breaker. Nevertheless, it would lead to an interesting situation with two weeks remaining. The saying goes: "Numbers never lie." However, all goes out the door when AWC and PC take the field- together.
Following the Western game on Saturday, Phoenix College continues a two-game road trip with a stop in Pima. They close out the 2019 Regular Season with a home double-header on the 27th against Yavapai, before traveling to Glendale Community College on May 2nd.