By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — Armando Quiroz has a big task at hand.
Hired last week as Eastern New Mexico University’s softball coach, Quiroz takes over a team that has endured three coaching changes in just over two years, two of them in January. They’ve gone 35-65 since 2003, including 5-35 in the Lone Star Conference South Division.
But Quiroz said they have the makings of a competitive team.
“I didn’t know what to expect, and neither did (the players),” he said. “But my motto is ‘expect to win,’ and I told them that the first day.
“We’re kind of an unknown. What I do like is their work ethic. If you work hard, good things can happen for you.”
Last month, the preseason poll in the six-team LSC South had the Zias sixth — by a wide margin. But they’re looking at the bright side of it.
“That’s the place to be,” said junior catcher Courtney McClasky, one of a handful of returning regulars. “The underdog comes out on top many times. I think the conference is underestimating our team.”
The Zias, whose roster includes just one senior but 11 juniors, opened the season by going 1-4 in last week’s Angelo State Classic at San Angelo, Texas.
McClasky, who hit .297 with two homers and 13 RBIs last season, said the team has adjusted well to Quiroz and new graduate assistant Amber Daniel after finding out about Kevin Blaskowski’s departure over the Christmas break.
Blaskowski, who was at ENMU for ine season, took the head coaches job at West Texas A&M, which will begin competition next year.
“Obviously, we didn’t expect it,” she said. “It is (a tough adjustment), but I think with all the juniors on the team it helped because it’s nobody’s last year.
“Everybody’s really positive about the change.”
ENMU (11-36, 1-19 South in 2004) has three returnees who saw regular action last year in McClasky, junior second baseman Tracy Jordan (a team-best .326, 3 homers, 26 RBIs) and sophomore left fielder and leadoff hitter Dani Flores (.311). But Flores’ status is in question because of a possible rotator cuff problem.
“It’s frustrating because I’m a returner and I really want to contribute,” Flores said. “I think we can do well this year. We’re really close as a team, and that’s a big part of it.”
Quiroz said McClasky and junior college transfer Tina Whitt likely will divide time between catcher and designated player. The infield is expected to include junior Adriana Reyes at third.
Flores and freshman Christina Helland have been competing in left, with junior Adina Taul in center and sophomore transfer Tori Picazo in right.
The Zias have an entirely new pitching staff made up of transfers Rosemary Moreno, Amanda Nightingale, Patricia Gonzales and Natasha Lindsey, all juniors, and freshman Shannon Saltclah. All are righties.
Quiroz said the Zias should pack more punch in their lineup than a year ago, when they hit just .247 with less than half as many extra base hits as their opponents (49-107).
“We’re a team that’s going to be built on power, and our defense is solid,” he said. “Hopefully our pitchers’ work ethic will carry over into the games.”