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2003 SOUTHERN PLAINS 16U ALL-STARS: (Front row l to r) Braylynn Peck, Josie Mallard, Candace Curry, Jerrica Mallard, Alyssa Hadley, Kerissa Sicklebower (back row l to r) Manager Tom Richards, Ashton Mitchek, Samantha Mitchek, Laine Mitchek, Coach Don Custer, Jamie Richardson, Jennie Richards, Destiny Saffer, Callie Curry, Coach Matt Centner. (Not Pictured): Kelsey Tague.

Long Time Gone and Developing Local Softball Excellence

By Betsy Barnett

April 5, 2024

With the announcement of the girls’ high school softball coop between Eads and Wiley, dubbed the SECO Angels, coming to reality in the 2024-2025 softball season it becomes obvious that girls’ softball in the area’s small communities has evolved dramatically and come a very long way since its inception in 2003. In that year, the girls joined the boys in the summertime action having their own Babe Ruth Softball league named Southern Plains.

Prior to 2003 the girls in the area played ‘fast pitch’ softball from the 1970s on in the summers but never really got competitive until all-star teams were formed from the new Babe Ruth League beginning in 2003. The early years saw much of the pitching as more of a cross between fast pitch and slow pitch where accuracy was not always present. Girls who played in small communities in southeastern Colorado in earlier years had to travel to the only league around in Lamar.

In 2003 the Southern Plains softball board of directors decided to make the way the game was played in the area much more competitive. After the league schedule was completed and the league tournament finished, they chose the league’s first all-star teams and paid to send them to their respective state tournaments.

From 2003 until just within the last 5-6 years, Southern Plains had been able to field an all-star team for all divisions including a 10-and-under (10U), 12-and-under (12U), 14-and-under (14U), and 16-and-under (16U) team. The Southern Plains league’s purpose was to allow the small communities an opportunity to ban together instead of being absorbed by the big numbers in the Lamar league, and it allowed for local control and benefits for the teams. Unfortunately, the league has been allowed to be absorbed by Lamar once again as the teams closer to Lamar like Wiley and McClave eventually elected to stay more local instead of traveling the bigger distances required to play in the Southern Plains League. After that, the smaller towns could not field a team and ultimately towns like Eads, Cheyenne Wells, and Holly were left to find games where they could—mostly in tournaments across the region.

These days, softball is all about playing competitive travel ball as the female athletes of today strive to play at a highly skilled level. That has resulted in the development of exceptional softball players across the High Plains and down the Arkansas Valley. Each year this region is well-represented at the Colorado State Softball Tournament in October, however, not many championships have come down here. It’s only a matter of time—and a lot of commitment to the sport—before it happens.

2013 SOUTHERN PLAINS 12U ALL-STARS: (Sitting l to r) Hadlie Rittgers, Madison Weed. (kneeling l to r) Paige Johnson, Kendra Noe, Kaci Chadwick, Brooklynn Jones, Koree Ellenberger. (standing l to r) Manager Greg Weed, Emily Gyurman, Destiny Ryser, Miranda Mitchek, Coach Brad Morgan, Haley Johnson, Nya Morgan, Kaylee Wilson, Katrina Joiner, Coach Jordan Barnett.

The following sports story illustrates how advanced and successful the early Southern Plains softball league was as the pitching, hitting, and strategic baserunning became the trademark for these teams. These were the pathfinders that led the way for the Angels to finally be in the (small school) outfield:

Southern Plains Repeats as Midwest Plains Regional 14U Champions

Reprinted from the Kiowa County Press, August 4, 2006:

The Southern Plains 14U team consisting of local players from Eads, Cheyenne Wells, Wiley, Sheridan Lake, and McClave traveled to Monett, Missouri last week as the Colorado Babe Ruth 14U State Champions in order to defend their 2005 Midwest Regional title. The team came away with the back-to-back championship beating the Kansas runner-up team from Oxford, 7-5, in the first round; Missouri runner-up, Monett, 11-2, in the quarterfinals; Independence, Kansas state champions, 5-2, in the semifinals; and the Heartland Nationals team, Missouri’s state champions, 9-5, in the finals.

The Southern Plains group has gone undefeated through the state and regional tournaments and will now travel to Varina Grove (Richmond area) Virginia to the 14U National tournament on August 14-18, 2006.

2006 SOUTHERN PLAINS 14U ALL-STARS: (Front row l to r) Casey Mitchek, Jordan Barnett, Jordan Melgoza, Heather LaCost, Kelsey Baker (back row l to r) Coach Kara Downing, Coach Zach Appel, Karlee Stuart, Lisa Miller, Emily Rosales, Anna Kuhns, Lauren Weber, Manager Marty Miller, Bat Boy Nick Kuhns. (Not Pictured): Brittany Dickerson.

In the Oxford (KS) game, pitcher Jordan Barnett gave up 2 hits and struck out 13 batters in the 7-5 win. The team was stellar until the sixth inning when Oxford managed to come from a 7-2 deficit scoring three runs off of three errors and a walk. However, the Southern Plains team held tight and managed to get through the first nerve-racking round of the tournament.

They would then face host team Monett (MO) beating them 11-2 with Barnett getting the win with 9 strikeouts and giving up 2 more hits and Casey Mitchek putting in important innings of relief in the middle of the game.

Southern Plains got their momentum going into the second inning where they scored five runs on a combination of the short game from their bunters and base runners and a double and single by Mitchek and Barnett that scored three runs.

As Southern Plains advanced through the tournament, they met up with their old foes from a year ago in the form of the Independence, KS team who Southern Plains beat in the championship in 2005. The Independence group has some huge players who are dangerous at the plate. Barnett got the nod in the circle and with excellent defense behind her, particularly from outfielders Heather LaCost and Jordan Melgoza, was able to contain the Independence team to just two hits.

Southern Plains would score in the first inning when Mitchek and then Barnett both got on base with singles. LaCost and Lauren Weber would then send them home and the Colorado group quickly jumped to the lead in the bottom of the first inning. However, Independence would come back in the top of the second to tie the game with two runs. The rest of the game was a pitcher’s dual until the Southern Plains group finally broke it open in the bottom of the sixth inning with Barnett getting on with a single, Weber moving her over with another single, and Melgoza hitting Barnett home Catcher Adi Cruz would then score Weber and Melgoza off a shot up the middle.

2007 SOUTHERN PLAINS 10U ALL-STARS: (Front row l to r) Rachel Bair, Leah Osborn, Malaki Ziegler, Skylar Ziegler, Kailyn Lane, Hailey Ray, Kenli Roth. (back row l to r) Coach Stuart Ziegler, Christin Crocker, Brooke Dickey, Brooke Crawford, Tori Uhland, Katie Smith, Coach Scott Smith.

The championship game proved to be a revenge match between many of the Southern Plains players and the Heartland players as Heartland had beaten Southern Plais in the IF game of the Regional championship in 2004 when these players were 12-years-old. Mitchek would start the game for Southern Plains in the circle and would go 3.5 innings before Barnett relieved her with Southern Plains in control, 3-2.

The SP group would get their lead in the second inning off a series of short game errors forced by Weber, Melgosa, and Emily Rosales. Heartland came back in the bottom of the fourth inning scoring two runs from two errors. After that inning, the SP group settled in and managed to score two and four runs in the final two innings to cushion their lead, 9-2, going into the bottom of the seventh and the championship on the line.

Barnett struck out the first batter, but a routine fly to center resulted in an error and a base runner. After a couple of walks and a hit later SP coach Kara Downing called time out to calm her group down in order to finish. With the score 9-5, Barnett would then strike out the next batter and then forced a ground out for the third out and the championship.

Batting production throughout the tournament came from La Cost, Weber, and Melgoza with Mitchek and Barnett adding some additional short work offensively. LaCost and Barnett were also awarded an individual outfielder and pitching award, respectively, during the closing ceremonies.

The Southern Plains group will now travel to Virginia qualifying for the 14U National Tournament from August 14-18. Last year this group played in the National Tournament in New Jersey where they came out in sixth place overall. The tournament consists of two days of pool play and then a double-elimination tournament bracket.