USSSA state softball: Playing for love of the game

The Ultamitts’ Dee Dee Gutierrez puts the tag on the Zandi Queener during Saturday’s Class E game in the USSSA women’s state slow-pitch tournament at Spencer Field. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

In the 15 or so years since she organized the team, Othena Smith has yet to see her Clovis-based Ultamitts squad win a state championship, even though they’ve come close a couple of times.

While she’d like to see that happen, it’s hardly a matter of life and death.

“I’ve coached a lot of years, and I enjoy coaching,” said Smith, whose squad is participating in the Class D portion of this weekend’s USSSA women’s state slow-pitch tournament at Guy Leeder Complex. “A lot of the girls out here, I coached them as kids.”

The Ultamitts, one of 18 Clovis teams in the 28-team, two-division field, took it on the chin in their opener Saturday morning, a 17-6 loss to Fire ‘n’ Ice of Ruidoso. After a rain delay early Saturday afternoon, play resumed around 6 p.m. with some of the games moved to Spencer Field.

Several of Smith’s players have been with her since the beginning, including second baseman Pam Bernier, who at 50 is slightly older than her coach.

She expects to continue playing for the foreseeable future.

“I enjoy it,” said Bernier, who like Smith lives in Texico and coached a girls team with her before the formation of the Ultamitts. “I feel if I ever stop, that’s when I’ll stiffen up and die.

“I enjoy softball. I love the game and enjoy the competition.”

She said the players try to live up to the “mitts” part of their name, although that doesn’t always happen.

“We’re out here to have fun,” Bernier said. “We like to be competitive, but you get new players and everybody has to learn everybody else.”

Smith said the Ultamitts have been to state competition every year of their existence, earning a second-place finish in 1999 and coming in third the following season. They’ve gone to two national tournaments and a “world” event several years ago in Lubbock.

The main thing, though, is “socialization,” pitcher-third baseman Dee Dee Gutierrez said.

“I love talking with everybody,” said Gutierrez, 44, a security officer in Clovis. “We’re one of the only teams that has never had a problem with (an opponent).”

That’s something that Smith said is almost as important as how well the team plays.

“We’ve taken several sportsmanship trophies, and I’m very proud of those,” she said. “That’s something I insist on.”

Gutierrez, also an original team member, and Bernier have daughters playing on the squad.

“Othena is the best coach I know,” Gutierrez said. “She doesn’t yell at us. If you have a problem, she lets us talk (one-on-one). Then it’s over and done, and you don’t take it back on the field with you.”

Lisa Leos has been on the team for seven years — and she also has a daughter on the squad.

She said several team members even vacation every year over the Fourth of July.

“I do it for the socialization — the friendship, really,” said Leos, who is from Clovis and also participates on volleyball and bowling squads with Bernier. “I’ve made a lot of friends out here.

“We don’t always win, but we always pull each other up and tell each other to smile.”

With some of her teammates several years older than she is, the 42-year-old Leos also doesn’t plan to give up softball anytime soon.

“I’ve got a lot of years left in me, obviously,” she said.