Basha softball enjoying team chemistry, camaraderie in pursuit of repeat

March 31, 2024 by Ben Stapley, AZPreps365

Basha senior Natalie Fritz (right #7 visor) and teammates exchange high-fives before a game this season. Photo by Corrina Price

The 2024 version of Basha Bears softball is letting the good times roll, and who could blame them?

Defending its state championship from 2023, Basha hasn't missed a beat this season, cruising to an 18-1-1 record and a comfortable No. 1 spot in the 6A power rankings. Coach Kailey Pomerory has a star-studded lineup with bright college futures. Besides star pitcher Natalie Fritz (New Mexico) and power hitting shortstop Gabriella Garcia (Oklahoma), three other seniors have signed with Division I universities: Cailin Quinney (Weber State), Amiyah Hernandez (Brigham Young) and Addyson Borg (Loyola University Chicago).

"It's the best senior class I've had yet," says Pomeroy, a Basha alumnus now in her third season as head coach.

With a few weeks left in region play, the Bears are the favorites to repeat as 6A state champs. But there's also a chance another top team gets hot at the right time and takes the crown away. Red Mountain, Queen Creek, Xavier, Pinnacle and others are capable. As with other team sports, it will come down to certain moments in the playoffs.

But if Basha doesn't pull off a repeat this season, it likely won't change they way Pomeroy appreciates this team and these players. 

"We really are loaded talent wise, but I'm so lucky because these girls are such an enojoyable group to coach and be around. They genuinely love playing for eachother, and they're well grounded."

Leading by Example and Enjoyment

Perhaps no player promotes the team bond more than ace pitcher Natalie Fritz. The senior was crucial in last season's title run, especially in Basha's 4-1 victory over Perry in the 6A title game which inlcuded 11 strikeouts. She's been as sharp as expected this season from the mound, with an 0.81 ERA that has come against some of the best lineups in the state, all of whom have Basha circled on their calendars. Fritz learned from the season's first game that she and her Basha teammates are taking everyone's best shot as defending champs. 

"We are really having the best time and all the competition makes it only better for us," Fritz says. "Nearly every game we get to see the best pitchers, the best lineups, the best strategy. It's a fun challenge and it can only prepare us better down the road. There's a lot of good teams."

Basha found early that regardless of its star power and championship pedigree, no one is going to roll out the red carpet for a repeat title. Winning it again will require 100% and then some. In the first game of the season, the Bears fell 6-5 to a solid Pinnacle team, but it may have been an early blessing in disguise. 

Fritz has been dominant ever since. The University of New Mexico-bound senior tossed a perfect game against Desert Ridge on March 12. The contest only went five innings as the Bears exceeded the 10-run rule, but Fritz still managed 13 strikeouts. it was the third career no-hitter for Fritz.

Basha senior pitcher Natalie Fritz will further her softball career at the University of New Mexico. Photo by Corrina Price

Perhaps Fritz's most impressive outing may have come a month ago against second ranked Red Mountain (16-2), another perennial power with a loaded lineup that has 32 home runs on the year. Fritz was as sharp as ever against the Mountain Lions, allowing just two hits en route to a 5-0 victory. 

"That may have been one of our best game this season," Fritz added. I know a lot of Red Mountain players through our club teams and they can hit the ball hard."

Red Mountain coach Rich Hamilton was impressed as well. "(Fritz) is so difficult to face because she knows how to put the ball in certain spots and does it often."

Coach Pomeroy reiterates Fritz abillity to rally the girls on the field but also in everything the Bears do. 

"She really likes to have fun and help everyone enjoy the game and everything we do as a team." Another role Fritz has taken on this season is that of mentor, specifically with freshman pitchers Kylee Duffy and Matti Collins, which has proven signifigant. Duffy and Collins have each pitched nearly 28 innings, combining for an ERA of .176. Their improvement and contributions play a key role in the playoffs, when starting pitchers are more easily taxed.

"It's been fun working with them and helping any way I can," Fritza says of Duffy and Collins. "They've done really well and we all have confidence in them."

Two-Sport Sooner?

The Bears have plenty of underclassmen firepower. Sophomore Aniyah Jaiman leads Basha at the plate with a .576 batting average. Basha is among the nation's leaders with 37 home runs, with sisters Morgan ('26) and Kendall Bragg ('25) each hitting eight of those homeruns. The other player with eight of those home runs is senior shortstop Gabriella Garcia, who like Fritz, has also been a fixture at in the program for the last four years. Along with the homeruns, Garcia is batting .565, and will head to the softball powerhouse and three time defending NCAA champion Oklahoma later this year.

But Garcia was already a state champion before Basha beat Perry in last May's state title game. Garcia is the two-time defending state champion in the javelin, and officially owns the second longest throw in state history. She became the first female athlete to win her event four straight years at last weekends’ Chandler Rotary track and field meet. She could certainly compete at the college level, but will she have the time?

Senior shortstop Gabriella Garcia signed with NCAA power Oklahoma last Fall. She's also one of the state's best javelin throwers of all-time. Photo by Corrina Price.

"I've thought about it," Garcia said after her Chandler Rotary victory. "I'd love to keep doing it at Oklahoma, but I'd probably have to get used to the schedule and time demands with softball, and probably permission from the softball coaches, but we'll see."

Basha Blood

It's possible no member of this Basha squad is enjoying the season more than its Kaile Pomeroy. It's audible in the way she describes her players and her outlook on softball and the concept of team success. She also takes pride in her role as a player in Basha's early softball history. As a freshman in 2009, Pomeroy was a member of Basha's second state championship.

"I've learned it's ok to stay focused and drive yourself and your team to achieve the best results, and also find enjoyment in the pursuit," Pomeroy says.

"I'm just so lucky to be a part of this."