April 27, 2005 - It's early in the afternoon, and the girls of Immaculate Heart Preparatory School's softball team are warming up on the one strip of clay that isn't inhabited by shocks of weeds, divots or rocks.
Released from school today at 1 p.m., the Lady Knights field ground balls between the third base foul line and the home team dugout, readying for an afternoon tilt against Ajo High School. A glance out over the field reveals a beat-up diamond littered with knee-high weeds, a hump where a pitching mound used to be, a rather large hole around shortstop, and an indiscernible line of spotty grass that separates outfield from infield.
As the late-day sun begins to fade in the west, the elongated shadows will reveal the many undulations of the Knights' home, says Immaculate Heart head coach Andy Ortiz.
Yet, it is here: Amid the weeds and tufts of grass, a desert flower has blossomed.
Ann Adams, 17, is to Immaculate Heart girls' athletics what a life vest is to a drowning swimmer. Without her, many of its girls' sports programs would be forced to tread water.
A multisport athlete in every sense of the term, Adams is a leader, motivator and catalyst on a young, inexperienced Knights team, playing the game with a grace that even many high school baseball players lack. And this is just her second season playing the sport.
"She's that one player where, if you had 10 of them you'd be untouchable," said Ortiz, who doubles up as softball coach and athletic director of the Class 1A school.
There may not be 10 of the junior on the Knights squad, but there are that many Adamses in her family. The youngest of six girls and four boys, Adams attributes her self-proclaimed "tomboy" demeanor to growing up around her older brothers.
Competing against them, she discovered her passion for sports. When she was an eighth grader at Immaculate Heart Middle School, coaches made the push to have her compete for the high school teams. Arizona Interscholastic Association rules would not allow for her to make the early transition, however.
Once she was in high school, more hurdles awaited the basketball, volleyball and eventual softball standout. In Adams' freshman year, a lack of players forced the school to eliminate the softball program. Although the sport returned her sophomore year, Adams witnessed the same thing happening to the school's volleyball squad for the same reasons that season.
"We always have such a great opportunity, then nothing," said an understanding Adams of the temporary cancellations of such sports. "That's just the way it goes at this school."
This year, Immaculate Heart has an enrollment of just under 60 kids.
Adams isn't the only player on the softball team trying to figure out a way to conquer the sport. To be able to field a complete roster, Ortiz must use six freshmen who have never played the game before this year.
"We've always been a young, inexperienced team," Adams said. "We just hope we can surprise people."
Among those surprised were the Red Raiders of Ajo.
The Knights would go on to split the afternoon doubleheader slugfest against Ajo, winning the first game 13-3 and dropping the second 26-14. That's right, 56 runs in just nine innings. (Both games were only five innings a piece.)
Adams wasted no time igniting the offense, leading off the first game with a rolling home run that eluded two outfielders. It only took the junior four pitches to duplicate that feat in game two, starting the game off with another round tripper.
The junior finished the afternoon 6 for 7, with two home runs, five runs scored and three RBIs.
After playing shortstop for most of both games, Adams finished the final two innings of the second contest behind the plate where she threw out two runners attempting to steal third and one at home after a wild pitch got by her.
"I play basically anywhere the team needs me," she said.
On the base paths, she's just as elusive, despite chronic knee problems that have followed her since birth. Adams' right knee never formed properly while she was growing up, leaving her susceptible to frequent dislocations, like the one that sat her down her freshman year and forced her to wear an immobilizer on the leg for six months. Today, the knee is strong and shows no signs of swelling, once again, to the size of a melon.
Adams will need a strong leg to excel on the school's softball field. Long before the late-day shadows can reveal the field's craters and spotty terrain, Adams has already found her own ray of light.
"It's just what makes our school Immaculate Heart."