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Tom Rysinski: Rough weekend could pay dividends for Pahrump Valley softball

In the span of two weeks, the Pahrump Valley High School softball team went from playing Goliath to playing David to playing a couple of increasingly rare games against teams roughly equal to them.

The results were unsurprising.

After warming up for the Centennial Spring Jamboree by beating up on Sunset League foes Western (26-4) and Democracy Prep (23-3), the Trojans dropped their first three games during the tournament at Majestic Park in Las Vegas by a combined 28-7. They broke through Saturday morning with a 3-2 win over Chavez, California, and then wrapped up the event with a discouraging 9-1 loss to Christian of El Cajon, California.

The Trojans are 18-11 going into today’s league game at Valley, a team they “struggled” against to the tune of a 28-5 rout April 1 at home. They are 6-0 in the Sunset League, winning those games by a combined score of 126-13. The last time they lost a league game was May 4, 2016, against Faith Lutheran, which, of course, is no longer in Class 3A.

A day later they defeated Cheyenne — also no longer in the league — 16-12, the last time they won a league game without it ending early via the mercy rule. That’s 26 consecutive mercy-rule victories in the Sunset.

The first 20 of those came under former coach Eli Armendariz, who was at the Democracy Prep game and agreed with the statement that “the league hasn’t gotten any better, has it?”

It’s a joke. Plain and simple. Second-place Mojave sits right behind the Trojans at 5-1, but the first game between the two was a 12-1 Pahrump Valley rout. Playing these teams barely counts as a sport.

It’s also no way to prepare for postseason play. And Trojans coach Cassondra Lauver has made it clear from the beginning that a state championship is the program’s goal. The Spring Jamboree was the Trojans’ third in-season tournament this year as they try to play as many competitive games as possible before regions.

“We came in here and we knew the kind of teams we were going to be facing,” Lauver said. “These are California stud softball teams, and while we never go into a game expecting to lose, we knew it was going to be a battle.”

If it was a battle, it was kind of like Waterloo. The Chavez victory was a solid effort — the game ended with the Trojans making three nice defensive plays in the infield as Hannah Cuellar set down the Eagles in order in the fifth inning — but it also was the only truly competitive game the Trojans played at Majestic Park.

“It was a great eye-opener for us,” Lauver said. “We just learned a lot about things we really need to focus on.

“We have a lot of work to do, honestly.”

This was the third consecutive year and the fifth time since 2013 they competed in the Spring Jamboree, with an overall record of 7-18. It’s not that every team is very good, although most of them are, but it’s that every team has a pitcher who can get the ball to the catcher without it bouncing once first. Or twice. And in most cases, the ball has some zip on it, something the Trojans never see in league play.

“If we saw it more often it would be an easier adjustment,” Lauver said. “But I don’t think any of my girls were blown away. It certainly was faster than they’re used to seeing, but they weren’t freaking out about it or running away from it. We struggled to adjust to it.”

And that’s an important takeaway from the tournament. While the scores don’t look all that good, the individual at-bats had the feel of games that were more competitive. Five games in three days is not enough time to adjust to quality pitching after a steady diet of starting pitchers who seem to alternate between playing slo-pitch and playing bocce.

“As much as it’s a little bit discouraging when you kind of get your butt kicked a little bit, it was good for them to see the caliber of player that other schools, other teams, other places have,” Lauver said. “It was something they need to see. Because otherwise, we get into this comfort zone … It’s good to face teams that are going to challenge us.”

And that’s true, even if they aren’t quite ready. Because they are close, perhaps closer than those scores indicate.

“I think that the ability is all there,” Lauver said. “I think our girls are stud athletes. Right now, we’re working a lot on our mental game and our heart.”

Lauver noted there is work to be done in taking the physical game to a higher level as well, but her players seem ready for that challenge.

“Coming off the field during one of the games, I had one of the girls going, ‘What do I need to do to be that kind of player?’” Lauver said. “It’s good to see something that they want to emulate. It was a great response.

“More than anything, our goal is we want to play our best. And that’s every time. Don’t feel like we get to play mediocre softball when we play mediocre teams and play big when we play big teams. We need to walk onto a field having a reputation of ‘this team is legit.’”

They already have that in Class 3A South. You don’t win 26 consecutive games by the mercy rule and reach the state tournament without it. But you get the feeling in talking to Lauver, or listening to the coaches during a game, that they want more than that. They want to exude that attitude against every foe, every game.

But for now, the Trojans go back to the mind-numbing exercise of playing teams that cannot pitch, cannot field and to a large degree cannot hit. The Valley game will be followed by a trip Friday to Del Sol, a team they squeezed past 21-1 on April 3 in Las Vegas.

For those planning ahead, Pahrump Valley will host the final rounds of the region tournament May 10-11, while Virgin Valley will host the Class 3A State Championship from May 16-18.

“Our main focus of the future is that state tournament,” Lauver said. “These are games we have to play, and we are going to use them to better ourselves.

“We have to remember what we’re aiming for. We’re not playing for the next game, or the next game, or the next game. We’re playing for the big game, and all that other stuff falls into place.”

Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at trysinski@pvtimes.com On Twitter:@PVTimesSports

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