There have been some good softball teams at Horizon Honors in recent years, but there is something different about this squad.
The Eagles are serious, yet silly. Focused, but allowing for some fun. Good, and heading toward great?
There is still some time to figure out if the latter will come true, but it was clear that Horizon Honors is having a good time while making a second-half surge.
Before Thursday’s win over Valley Christian, the team huddled for a pep talk, yelled “Horizon Eagles” and everyone jumped back while letting out a “Caw, caw.”
They broke up laughing and then promptly went out and thumped rival Valley Christian, 12-2.
“They have a great approach right now,” coach Dina Samora said. “There is a great leadership with our two captains, Taylor England and Shelby Sims, to get them focused, but they are keeping it loose.”
The Eagles are 9-5 overall and 7-3 in power rankings to sit in the high teens in Division III with the 24-team state tournament about a month away.
The offense has hit its stride as the schedule cranks up with tough opponents like Coolidge, Phoenix Country Day and Tempe Prep in the coming weeks.
“The second part of the season the bats have really come around,” Simora said. “We have been on a pretty good streak lately, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
The offense has been a strong suit the previous two seasons when the Eagles made the postseason. This year’s squad might be even stronger in the box considering its .432 overall average.
Senior catcher Mikaela Downes is the leader again, hitting .745 (35 for 47) with nine doubles, five triples and four home runs, while junior shortstop Gina Garvey is swinging a heavy bat at .609 (28 for 46) with six doubles, a triple, and a home run.
Senior outfielder Shelby Sims is at .467 (21 of 45) with six doubles and three home runs and senior pitcher Ashley Hughes is at .514 (19 of 37).
“When the girl in front of you hits a double, you want to get a triple or a home run,” Sims said. “We are very competitive and push each other to do better.”
The Eagles hope the offense can keep it going down the stretch with the focus on performing better in the postseason when the pitching gets better and the games more intense.
In the previous two years, the Eagles had high hopes for the postseason only to lose in the second round two years ago against Benson, the top-seeded team, and last year in the first round as the better seed.
It is one thing to lose to the eventual state runner-up like the Eagles did in 2010, but last year as the 10th seed Horizon Honors fell to No. 23 Hayden.
It didn’t sit well.
“That was hard to take because we worked so hard all year to show we belonged,” Sims said. “Then we went out and played our worst game. We had some young players and we didn’t handle it well. We’ll be ready this year.”
Simora has seen a different approach from the team this season, partly because of last year’s bitter disappointing end.
“They are determined to be better than last year,” she said. “It was tough, but I think it made them work harder in the offseason and impacted how they approach each game.”
The Eagles have more confidence this year as Hughes continues to improve and impress on the mound. She has thrown all but four innings for the Eagles this season.
“She has progressed more each year and she is more focused this year,” Simora said. “She is getting wins, moving the ball around and making big pitches when she has to.”
Horizon Honors has a pretty good formula working — offense, pitching and a light-hearted but focused attitude — that could very well have the team ready to break through that postseason barrier.
“We believe in each other,” Sims said. “We didn’t play as good to start, but now we are playing like we can beat anyone.”
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