In Major League Baseball, trades are common, some even historic. In high school, swapping players isn't difficult, it's impossible.
Unless you're the softball squads of Ironwood Ridge and Canyon Del Oro high schools, which are winning this season thanks in large part to relocated players.
After a 14-8 season that saw her yield less than one earned run per contest in 2004, Dana Alcocer made the jump from Ironwood Ridge across Oro Valley to CDO. As a junior, her 183 strikeouts for the Nighthawks vaulted the flamethrower to a spot among the elite pitchers in Tucson. A year later, the senior Alcocer has picked up right where she left off, now at CDO, a school that has become notorious in years past for its students who have left its halls for Ironwood Ridge, not visa versa.
"I don't know how she had the guts to do that," said Dorado head coach Kelly Fowler, "leaving friends behind and going to an in-school rival, I don't know."
The loss of one of its top hurlers hasn't devastated Ironwood Ridge, however. Before the 2004-05 school year began, the Nighthawks got a welcome surprise when Brittany Koehler transferred to the Class 4A school. Last season the junior pitched for Sahuaro High School, where she, too, asserted herself as one of the top pitchers in Tucson.
"It's amazing here," said Koehler, 17, of her new surroundings. "I think this is the best stadium in the state."
Koehler, like Alcocer, is benefiting from the relocation of her family. For the new Ironwood Ridge pitcher, assimilating herself into the Oro Valley school wasn't too difficult, said Koehler. Fitting in isn't difficult when you join a Nighthawk's lineup that features five players that play ASA as well.
Ironwood Ridge has steam-rolled opponents this season, en route to an unblemished record in the Sonoran Region at 9-0. Koehler has accounted for 15 of those wins. Combined, the Nighthawk pitching staff has allowed opponents to hit a paltry .158, giving up five runs and 25 hits all year. As a staff, Ironwood Ridge has shut out opposing teams 12 times.
"She's fit in well," said Ironwood Ridge head coach Randy Anway. The Nighthawks skipper said Koehler, a ground ball pitcher, has benefited greatly from a midfield corps that rivals any in Arizona.
The unintentional shuffling of pitchers has paid off for both programs. Through April 18, both CDO (18-3, 7-1) and Ironwood Ridge (21-3, 9-0) sat atop their respective regions in first place.
Both girls can beat you not only with their blistering fastballs but with their bats as well. Alcocer has slugged five homeruns this season to Koehler's two.
"Pitching is my job," said Koehler. "Hitting is a bonus."
Alcocer has stepped into the role of ace at CDO after Tanya Groff was struck by a pitch and suffered a broken hand early in the year and was forced to miss five weeks. In Groff's absence, Alcocer has earned a 12-3 record while slugging six doubles and 21 RBIs to compliment her .440 batting average. She's even done her job bunting, said Fowler of her cleanup hitter, who has one sacrifice on the year.
Stats aside, Alcocer plays with the reckless abandon of many professional athletes. On April 14 at CDO, Alcocer fought off a nasty illness, that has plagued her for more than a week and a half to shut down Class 5A Southern Region rival Salpointe, 2-1. Despite the illness, which at times left her doubled over in the dugout between frames, Alcocer was throwing some five miles per hour faster in the seventh inning than she was at the start of the game, tipping the radar gun at about 60 mph.
What's the difference between putting on a Nighthawk uniform vs. Dorado green and gold?
"The colors," said Alcocer. "Both programs are awesome." Alcocer chose CDO because of the convenience and close proximity to her new home. "It took me a while to get used to it, but now I love it."
With Groff sidelined, Alcocer was forced to bear the brunt of pitching the load of innings this season. That's a situation similar to the one Groff faced last year when she was CDO's main option on the hill.
"It's tough being the only one," said the senior, Groff, who will attend Central Arizona College in the fall. The remedy to absorbing inning after inning on the arm is simple, "ice, Advil and a nap," agreed both CDO hurlers.
Alcocer and Koehler will be on display this summer when the two pitchers compete in the Arizona Softball Association. When the two were 14 years old they were teammates on the AZ Gold Outlaws team, which Alcocer dubbed a unique squad due to its many different personalities.
This summer, Koehler will pitch for the Outlaws, while Alcocer is looking for a place to compete after taking the fall off from the sport. The CDO senior and Groff have even considered starting a team of their own to play throughout the summer.
The summer club season is when most of the girls who are serious about playing at the next level in college get noticed. Letters of interest are beginning to fill Koehler's mailbox from schools throughout the country, but no offers can be made yet because she is still a junior. Alcocer will play for Pima Community College in the fall, where she will be in direct competition with her teammate and fellow hurler, Groff.