The high school class of 2024 is on the clock. Sept. 1 is only a few months, the day that upcoming juniors will be able to first hear from NCAA college coaches.
The Hotshots Esparza 16u team has several players likely to be hearing from colleges, having established itself as one of the top teams in its age bracket and willing to compete against the best of the best near and far.
Part of the reason head coach Charlie Esparza takes his team all over the country is because of the recruiting rules. He will take his team to the likes of California, Arizona, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kansas, outside of his team’s home in Texas.
Charlie Ray’s Atlanta Premier 06 team won’t be mistaken for the 1927 Yankees, but they can sure beat you in a variety of ways.
“We’re quick and small with some power,” said Ray, who plans to coach this team all the way through its 18U years. “We can steal bases top to bottom. We don’t hit a lot of home runs, but we dent the fence pretty good.”
Despite not hitting a ton of long balls, the team’s offense can look like poetry in motion when it’s clicking on all cylinders.
JB Slimp began the Texas Blaze softball club program in 2003 with a 14U team his oldest daughter was on.
“Like a lot of dads, I had been coaching her in all sports,” Slimp said. “We had a team in 2003 and at that time, my vision was to create a great atmosphere for these kids to get better and be a competitive team in our area.”
That mission was accomplished. The team began having more success and with each passing year, Slimp became passionate and informed about the recruiting process for softball players hoping to play at the college level.
Roger Schliewe just figured he’d be a baseball coach. He played baseball in college and began his coaching career on the baseball diamond.
But in 1990, his path diverted and he became the softball coach at Horicon High School in Wisconsin. Schliewe took over a program that had won just one game in the previous two years. In his first season at the helm, his team posted a 13-7 record and defeated the top-ranked team in the state.
The next year, he took Horicon to the state tournament, and the rest is history. He’s won four state titles and many other conference, region and section championships.
That first year as a Bandits team, Yates took them to the PGF Nationals. So, he’s known for a while he’s got a group of girls with plenty of potential. Not only are they talented and becoming better by the day, but Yates has long been impressed with their love for one another.
But instead of being a flash in the pan, the team continued to grow, continued to compete and develop. Mojo-Danley won the 12u PGF title in 2018 and is currently one of the most notable and potent first-year 16u teams in the country.
Many hitters have stepped into the box and underestimated Bronwyn Borden.
And many of them have slumped back to the dugout, shaking their head after an unsuccessful at-bat.
There’s more to Borden than meets the eye. She stands an unassuming 5-foot-3 in the pitcher’s circle, but has never let her size deter her from raising her stock as a Class of 2023 prospect.
“I definitely go out there and give 110% because I do want to show people that just because I’m small doesn’t mean I can’t throw hard and be really good,” Borden said.
Borden is a three-sport athlete at Brewer High School in Alabama and has played with the Prospex softball organization for the last five years.
As a pitcher, Borden said her curveball and her changeup are her two best pitchers, and she tops out around 62 miles per hour. The key for a pitcher her size is using her whole body to get the desired effect on her pitches.
“I try to make sure I drive with my legs,” she said.
When a hitter does make her pay for a mistake, a circumstance becoming less and less common, the mental toughness already required of someone of her stature translates into the ability to quickly move on and not dwell on things.
“I just try to wash it away and think next batter,” she said.
Matt Adams, who runs the Prospex program, called Borden a hard worker who plays well beyond her size.
“She can beat you in the circle multiple ways,” Adams said. “She has a very good changeup that she can throw in any count. But what makes her tough is she can also throw it by you with good velocity and late movement.”
Borden can also play outfield or middle infield when not in the circle, but she has earned the respect of dozens of hitters who have stepped in the batter’s box and presumed an easy hit was coming.
“I definitely think that I’ve grown a lot in the past year or so,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot better, but I still have a long way to go. I feel like I can do so much more if I just keep working.”
Part of that growth is in her knowledge of the game, which is in the upper echelon of players her age.
“She is not a pitcher who just throws what is called from the dugout or by the catcher,” Adams said. “She really does understand why she throws certain pitches in particular counts and situations. She is smart above her age.”
“It’s very exciting, because with my NSR profile, it really makes me feel better and makes me think I have potential to be recruited,” Borden said.
Borden’s recruiting process will in essence begin in September, when college coaches are permitted to contact her during her junior year. She knows some schools will not look past the surface of her measurables, but she is trusting in herself and the strides she makes daily to get better.
“I faced the fact that this is just how I was born,” she said. “I definitely try to always work hard, because my time will come. Somebody will notice me if I keep working.”
You won’t catch Borden without a smile on her face and she strives to be an encouraging and uplifting player with any team she plays on.
“She is a great kid who is one of the hardest working kids you will find. She is a student of the game, which is hard to find in most players,” Adams said.