By Daniel Dullum
Apache Junction’s recent 4A state softball tournament run had more than a few notable observers.
After completing her first season of college softball at Ferris State, former Lady Prospectors catcher Alyx Ayers flew home on May 8, got off the plane and went straight to Rose Mofford Softball Complex in Phoenix to watch her ex-teammates play against Bullhead City Mohave.
“My mom told me they were playing today, so I said, ‘Of course I want to go!’” Ayers said, adding that she expected AJ to have a successful season.
“We always competed well within our own region,” Ayers said following the Lady Prospectors’ season-ending loss to Mohave. “I’d like to see them go a little farther in the postseason, but some things don’t always go your way.”
Ten days earlier, Alyssa Padilla – another ex-Lady Prospector – took a break from her schedule as a reserve outfielder at Benedictine-Mesa University to watch AJHS win its opening-round Saturday morning home game against Cave Creek Cactus Shadows on April 28.
There’s a story behind any nickname, like “Gator.”
“In Little League, I caught a foul ball playing first base and I caught it with my arms out flat and it looked like an alligator. So it started like Alligator and got shortened to Gator,” Padilla said. “I love it! It’s stuck with me for so long!”
After enjoying watching AJ defeat Cactus Shadows, Padilla talked about playing at the next level.
“College softball has been such an adjustment,” Padilla said. “It’s been amazing.
“It’s really opened my eyes to how much you can appreciate softball, because you don’t get as much time as you would in high school, per se. But, oh my, gosh it’s been fun. I love all the traveling.”
Padilla said she’s played “a fair amount for a freshman, here and there.” In 10 games for the Redbirds, Padilla has a .125 batting average, one run-scoring single, and a 1.000 fielding percentage (four putouts, no errors).
“I do understand me not playing as much as I should the first year going in,” Padilla said. “But next year, I should be out there a lot more.”
After being used to being a regular, Padilla patiently awaits her opportunity to see more playing time.
“For some people, it’s a really tough adjustment, but for me, I never really got mad about it,” Padilla said. “Because I’ve started in club, in high school, so it’s kind of nice to sit and relax, then go out and play the game you love.”
Padilla learned all about patience after sitting out most of her sophomore year after reconstructive knee surgery to repair a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tear and a meniscus tear. She recovered, making all-4A Black Canyon Region as a senior.
“It was starting from the absolute bottom,” Padilla remembered. “It was three months to figure out what I tore, eight months on crutches, plus surgery. I couldn’t walk or even bend my leg. Now, it feels great.
“That one hurt more than sitting in college. I haven’t had any problems since. I’m out of that brace!”
In the meantime, Padilla prepares for her sophomore year.
“In summer, I just train a lot harder, and I train hard for when the season comes up,” Padilla said. “When I came to college my freshman year, I was in super shape, training on club teams, training on my own. That’s where you put in the work more over summer.”
Padilla is majoring in business at Benedictine, explaining, “Just general business for now. I really want to learn how to manage my money. So, I’ll be looking more into finance. That’ll be pretty cool.”
‘IT’S ABOUT EARNING IT’
Like Padilla, Ayers experienced the throes of paying her dues as a college freshman.
Ayers, an All-Black Canyon Region first-team catcher in 2017 and an All-Division III, Section 7 selection in 2016, saw limited action as a freshman at Division II Ferris State. In eight games, she hit .111 with two runs batted in, one hit, one stolen base and a .778 fielding percentage behind the plate.
“College is really good. I love being away from home,” Ayers said. “It’s pretty tough being a freshman coming in.
“We had brand new coaches, so everyone had a clean slate. But it came down to who earned the spot, and that’s who played the whole season. Next year, I’m going to go in and just try to win the catcher’s spot. So, we’ll see how that works out. It’s all about earning it.”
Playing her collegiate softball in Big Rapids, Mich., has, so far, been a positive experience for Ayers.
“I don’t think I could have picked a better school, honestly,” Ayers said. “It had everything I wanted in a college. Whether or not I played softball, I would definitely have chosen that school.”
KLITZKE EXCELS AT WICHITA STATE
Apache Junction native Bailey Klitzke completed a strong sophomore season at Wichita State.
Klitzke, a left-hander and graduate of Gilbert Desert Ridge, was 7-2 with a 3.10 ERA in 26 games, including two starts. She threw 49 2/3 innings, logging 40 strikeouts and 38 walks, and held opponents to a .242 batting average.
At the plate, Klitzke hit .214 with two runs batted in.
In the NCAA Division I Tournament, Klitzke threw 1/3 inning against Arkansas. The Shockers were 2-2 in their regional.
Photo above: Former Lady Prospectors Alyx Ayers and Alyssa Padilla and Gilbert Desert Ridge grad Bailey Klitzke