Pride can often get in the way of teamwork. With Tucson High School’s softball team, the Badgers have a “pride factor” among each of their players that draws the team closer together, according to veteran coach Bert Otero.
Otero knows of what he speaks.
The Pima County Sports Hall of Famer, who had a successful two-decade run as Desert View’s coach starting in 1985, is in his first year coaching the Badgers since coming out of retirement.
He coached Tucson — including phenom junior first baseman Carlie Scupin (an Arizona commit) — to a 4-1 win today over Glendale Mountain Ridge in a 6A state playoffs play-in game at Cherry Field.
The Badgers, on a 13-game winning streak at 15-7 overall, will play Tuesday in the first round of the tournament at a higher seed, mostly likely in the Phoenix area.
“These kids, they know each other well and there’s a pride factor in the program that they all get,” Otero said. “Each and every one of them lead by example. They pick each other up.
“You can see the camaraderie that the kids have.”
Tucson High beats Mountain Ridge 4-1 to advance to the 6A state playoffs. Badgers RF Marina Chacon with the nice catch to end the game. pic.twitter.com/2rrBFxcE1B
No better example of that than when Tucson starter Ana Rodriguez worked five-plus innings of shutout ball before getting pulled by Otero after a leadoff double by a Mountain Ridge batter to start the sixth inning. Rodriguez did not sulk. Quite the opposite.
She said she welcomed the sight of reliever Lisette Urquidez.
“I thought it was fine for her to come in for me, especially since I pitched most of the game,” said Rodriguez, who allowed three hits with three strikeouts and no walks in her five innings. “I’m happy that she came in for me.”
Tucson starter Ana Rodriguez comes out after allowing a leadoff double to Mountain Ridge in the top of sixth. Lizette Urquidez enters in relief. Badgers lead 4-0. Rodriguez pitched an effective five innings. pic.twitter.com/bZtuMHlGkP
Urquidez had two strikeouts and allowed only one hit in her two innings of relief. She was the beneficiary of Tucson’s outstanding defense with senior third baseman Alyssa Trejo and freshman right fielder Marina Chacon each making diving catches in the seventh inning.
“There’s no egos on this team,” Otero said. “They’re here to play the game of softball. I tell them to respect the game … These kids, that’s what they do. Ana is genuine. She goes out and gives you all she’s got.
“She took (coming out) in stride. She actually encouraged Lisette. They got together. I always tell them, ‘Talk to each other. That’s what it’s all about. You’re family.’ That’s what it’s all about, family. I tell them, ‘Talk to each other, take care of each other and good things will happen.’ And they do. It’s very genuine. That’s the neat thing about being out here.”
Another example of the Badgers’ bond is the demeanor of Scupin, a high-profile prospect who does not allow her success to impede her trusting relationship with her teammates. She plays like an all-star but does not have an all-star attitude.
During a 6A Metro coaches meeting Tuesday, Otero said one coach referred to Scupin as a “beast.”
“I said, ‘I can relate to that,'” Otero said with a laugh.
#ArizonaWildcats commit @carliescupin talks about the @thms_athletics softball team advancing to the 6A state playoffs with a 4-1 win over Mountain Ridge. Scupin hit her 14th HR of the season in the game. pic.twitter.com/jDTsnxqznf
Scupin, who towers above others at 6’1″, hit her 14th home run of the season, a solo shot to right field for the left-handed batter in third inning that opened the scoring in the game.
Her numbers this season: .714 batting average with 14 home runs, 11 doubles and 38 RBIs. Her gaudy career stats: .616 batting average with 38 homers and 114 RBIs in 83 games.
“Carlie is very disciplined at the plate,” Otero said. “She’s going to wait to get the pitch that she wants. That pitch she hit was an outside pitch and she pulled it.
“An outside pitch, you normally hit it the other way. The great bat speed she has, the great hands that she has, she pulled it. That’s her. There’s a lot of natural ability but Carlie works hard for everything that she gets. That work ethic is second to none.”
Arizona "only school I ever wanted to go to" says @thms_athletics junior first baseman @carliescupin, who committed to Mike Candrea's program as a freshman. Big get for the Wildcats in Class of 2020. pic.twitter.com/eZgprScJYV
Scupin had that one official at-bat with the home run because Mountain Ridge opted to intentionally walk her twice. The second intentional walk in the fifth inning was peculiar. Her free pass loaded the bases with no outs. There were runners on first and third.
The strategy to avoid Scupin’s potent bat misfired as Trejo, a dangerous hitter herself batting .625 with 30 RBIs, hit a two-run double that increased Tucson’s lead to 3-0.
The Badgers scored another run that inning as Scupin scored on a sacrifice fly hit by Kelli Samarano.
“I haven’t seen it as much as I thought we would,” Otero said when asked if Scupin has been intentionally walked before in a similar circumstance with no outs and a runner on first and nobody on second.
“Finally, they threw to me in my second at-bat and I just had to take advantage of what I could,” Scupin said of her home run. “I kind of got the game going and from there on, the whole team followed.”
Otero added that the team followed Scupin “as one,” an important reason why the Badgers are one of the hottest teams in the state heading into the playoffs.
.@thms_athletics starter Ana Rodriguez talks about the solid defense behind her and the combination with batterymate Kelli Samarano behind the plate in the Badgers' 4-1 win over Mountain Ridge in the 6A state playoffs play-in game. pic.twitter.com/6MDeyBbkdq
“I think we’re going to do great (in the state playoffs),” Rodriguez said. “I think if we keep it up with our hitting, and our pitching and defense, it’s going to be good.
“If we keep cheering in the dugout and keeping it loud and confident out there, I’m pretty sure we’re going to be good.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.