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Munoz stepping up to UTEP

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Pictured are, back row from left, pitching coach Mary Gutierrez, head softball coach Kim Smith and Dexter High School principal Craig DeYoung. Front row, from left, sisters Aryana and Danyela Munoz, mother Moraima Nieto, Bryana Munoz and father Danny Munoz. (Jeannie Harris Photo)

In a feat that has never been done in Dexter High School sports, the Lady Demons softball team will try to become the first team in school history to win four consecutive state titles. The margin for error is getting smaller as they were pushed by District Champion, Loving, last season.

The Falcons finished district play with only one loss, ending Dexter’s reign on the district title. Loving gave Dexter its only two losses in district. It was after Loving had defeated Dexter 9-3 at home on April 29, for the second time in 10 days, that coach Kim Smith called a meeting and told her players to loosen up and start having fun playing softball.

The Lady Demons knew that to retain the Blue Trophy they would not only need to have fun and play loose, but they would need four-year staff ace Bryana Munoz and her six different pitches to take control on the mound again and dominate. Munoz mixed pitches so well Dexter ran off six straight wins, with the last two coming against Loving in the state championship games: 5-0, and 5-4, to win their third title.

On Tuesday afternoon, Munoz signed with the University of Texas at El Paso, to continue her career on the mound.

“It’s all her,” said Dexter softball coach Kim Smith. “Great athlete, great kid and she works hard at what she does. She put in a lot of hours to get to this level.”

Smith feels like Munoz has been seen in the circle since she was an eighth-grader, so the league has seen a lot of the pitches she has. Smith wants Munoz to get better at hitting her spots and throw her off-speed pitches more effectively. Munoz can throw six different pitches to keep batters from sitting on her fastball, with her out pitch being a screwball.

Munoz also throws a change-up, riseball, curveball and drop ball.

During camp this year, Smith wants Munoz to work on hitting her spots to set up her next pitch. Smith has scheduled bigger competition to get her team ready for the playoffs and to make sure they are hardened to the level of play they will face come tournament time.

Loving looms large once the season starts. Offseason conditioning has started, where the softball players who are not involved in other sports will do conditioning drills and lift. The team begins practices full-time toward the end of January.

Dexter’s Middle School principal, Chanda Crandall, started The Dexter Darlings, an 8U softball team. They were having trouble finding enough players to field a team, so Crandall asked her daughter if there were any girls who wanted to play softball. The 8U teams did not pitch, but were geared toward getting ready to pitch at the 10U. Munoz and another pitcher would work with pitching coach Mary Gutierrez.

“Bryana always played with heart,” Crandall said, “and added an extra level of competitiveness to our team. Munoz did not stop working on her pitching. Many traveling teams asked her to pitch for them during tournaments. As an eighth-grader, she was good enough to pitch for her high school team. I am proud to see her achieving her dreams.”

Her mother, Moraima Nieto, remembers when Munoz was playing in a tournament in Branson, Missouri, and she pitched 11 straight games to help her team finish in second place. Munoz was awarded Most Valuable Pitcher of the Branson Tournament. As Munoz’s team played their way through the tournament, other umpires would tell Nieto that her daughter’s team would be in the championship game, and she had a future in softball at 10 years old.

“My daughter loves softball so much that she practices it after volleyball and basketball,” Nieto said. “She will work on it even after a game. It has been a lot, and it’s been hard. It has not been easy for her.”

When Nieto saw her daughter’s heart, determination and drive to win; that was the moment, she knew her daughter (Munoz) had the right stuff to pitch at the next level in softball. Nieto feels all of Munoz’s practices with Gutierrez, and games have led her to this moment to where she is now.

“She (Munoz) is a hard worker and dedicated to pitching,” Gutierrez said. “She is very mentally tough. That is one of the first things we have worked on from the beginning. My goal for her was to win state three years in a row. That’s been my goal, not hers. I want to be able to sit down in the stands and say I had part of that. I’m so proud of her.”

Gutierrez has worked with Munoz for the last 11 years on her fundamentals, form and the mental aspect of how to pitch and to pitch through when she doesn’t have her best stuff in the circle. When Gutierrez watches Munoz pitch from the stands, she knows right away if she has her best stuff or not, and what adjustments need to be made. They can communicate with a look of an eye, or a signal without speaking to help her get back in the groove.

“I’m excited to sign with UTEP and further my education and continue playing softball,” Munoz said. “I’m getting prepared for the next level. I know the competition is going to be better, which means I have to be better.”

Munoz had other Division I offers, a school in Missouri, some Division II schools in Colorado and California, and some junior colleges in Kansas and Arizona. Munoz enjoyed her campus visit when she looked at UTEP.

“Can’t, never could,” Gutierrez told Munoz when she began working with her, and that is still their motto. “I told her you have to want it. She’s like one of my own.”

All Munoz has done in four years of softball is hit .723. In the circle, her record is 55-10, with career strikeouts of 685. She made All-State the last three years.