Story by Evan Oscherwitz
Bagdad, Arizona is a town of around 1,400 in western Yavapai County known primarily for its unique name and the massive copper deposits that sit just outside the town limits.
However, Bagdad may soon become famous for another export – talented softball players. The softball team at Bagdad High School has enjoyed a sensational start to the 2021 season, outscoring its opponents 68-12 through five games and sitting at first place in the 1A West division.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” head coach Sarah Morris said. “Our team has so much connection with each other. They don’t die down, ever.”
The Sultans lineup features a healthy mix of newcomers and veterans, most of whom can play multiple positions and have substantial travel ball experience.
The team has received contributions from a number of players, but junior pitcher Holli Myers, freshman shortstop Nuvia Jauregui and freshman center fielder Briah Williams have played especially large roles in Bagdad’s season-opening surge.
Myers, one of only two regular pitchers on the Sultans roster, has made life miserable for opposing hitters. Motivated by the abrupt cancellation of her sophomore season due to the Coronavirus, she has more than made up for lost time, posting a 1.93 earned run average and .198 batting average against in 25.2 innings pitched.
“[The cancellation] gave us more of a drive,” Myers said. “It made all of us want it more. We’re so lucky to be getting to play the game we love in high school and we can’t take it for granted.
Myer’s performance reflects her take-nothing-for-granted attitude. Her weapon of choice is the strikeout, and she has struck out 10 or more batters in two of her five starts on the season.
In the batter’s box, Myers has been just as effective, hitting .467 with seven hits, seven runs batted in, and four runs scored in just 19 appearances at the plate.
“It’s just so important for me to relax out there on the mound,” she said. “Just staying calm and remembering that my team has my back, and my coaches have my back.”
While Myers has provided a calming veteran presence, the freshman duo of Williams and Jauregui have brought a youthful spark to the Sultans lineup as well. Both are extremely versatile players and devoted students of the game, which made an impression on their coach long before they ever reached the high school level.
“I’ve honestly been waiting for these girls to get in high school for the last five years,” Morris said. “They used to sit on the sideline, actually, of our games, and they would yell what the girls should be doing on the field. They’re just so softball smart.”
Unsurprisingly, both players have proven themselves to be well worth the wait. Jauregui currently serves as the team’s starting shortstop and has produced at an extremely high level in her first taste of high school competition.
Her fearless approach to hitting has paid big dividends on the stat sheet, as she leads the Sultans in extra base hits, walks, and runs batted in.
“Nuvia is very nitty-gritty,” Morris said. “She’s rough, she throws the ball hard, she’s not scared in the box. We all have confidence that when she gets in the box, she’s going to hit the ball.”
Meanwhile, Williams has put up equally eye-popping numbers at the plate, leading the team in on base percentage, hits, home runs and runs scored. In the field, she has been just as effective, constantly putting her hustle and reliable glove hand on full display.
“I have not seen the girl miss a ball,” Morris said. “I try every day to try to burn her or get the ball by her or drop it in front of her and she’s diving for the ball, sliding in, making plays.”
Myers, Williams and Jauregui are all examples of highly-skilled players who have come up through Bagdad’s development system.
The town’s youth grow up with a strong appreciation for sports, and many young softball players go on to play offseason ball in Phoenix or with Bagdad’s own club baseball program, which has resulted in an abundance of home-grown talent.
“A lot of these kids play travel ball,” Morris said. “But we also have a big program in Bagdad that’s called Mean Machine, and two of our girls played Mean Machine baseball for the last four years. They went and traveled with the boys, and they played tournaments with the boys. That’s what makes our athletes so good.”
The increasing number of high-caliber softball players being produced in Bagdad has also led to an increase in support from the community.
While the Sultans’ games have historically been well-attended, Morris has noticed an uptick in interest as of late. A winning team usually has an easy time endearing itself to its fanbase, and the Sultans’ early success seems to have given the players and coaches a celebrity-like status around town.
“This year is probably one of the best years,” she said. “You walk into Basha’s and people are like ‘wow, you guys did really good on your game yesterday, congratulations.’ It’s really cool to have that support.”
Though the season is still young, the Sultans have given Bagdad a reason to rejoice. With Myers, Williams and Jauregui around for the foreseeable future and more promising players rising up through the town’s youth programs, great things appear to be on the horizon for Bagdad’s softball program.
In time, a town that was once renowned for its copper mine may become known as a gold mine for softball talent.