CHEYENNE – Alexis Naughton and her family had a decision to make when the Cheyenne Extreme softball team for her age group disbanded after the 2016 season.
Naughton – who was entering eighth grade – could play up in age with Extreme’s under-18 team, or she could suit up for a team in northern Colorado. Those were the paths chosen by some of Naughton’s former teammates.
Naughton’s decision came down to playing time versus driving time. Her parents didn’t like the idea of spending most of their week driving south on Interstate 25 for both practices and games, so Naughton decided to move to the under-18 ranks, knowing it likely meant she would spend a lot of time watching from the dugout.
“They told me, ‘Hey, we understand she might not play a lot, but we think it could still be a really valuable learning experience for her,’” Extreme coach Adam Galicia said.
Galicia told Naughton to work as hard as she could and absorb as much information as she could that first summer. If things fell the right way, Naughton would play a little as an eighth grader, a lot more as a freshman and be a regular in the lineup during her sophomore campaign.
Naughton had a stellar sophomore year, just as Galicia predicted, but the two varsity seasons leading up to it weren’t shabby either.
As an eighth grader, Naughton batted .377 (43 for 114) with six doubles and 27 RBIs while playing in 48 of Extreme’s 56 games. She hit .317 (50 for 158) with five doubles, two triples and 31 RBIs while playing in 58 games as a freshman in 2018.
Last summer, Naughton’s .425 batting average (48 for 113) was fifth-best on Cheyenne’s roster. Her six home runs tied for third-most, while her 38 RBIs were fifth.
Those numbers are among the reasons Naughton is expected to be a key cog for a veteran-laden Extreme team that opens its season today in Gillette.
Galicia’s biggest concern with Naughton is that she sometimes plays stiff, something she chalks up to the nerves that came with being one of the youngest players on her team.
“I was scared I was going to let the older girls down and ruin things for everybody,” the 17-year-old Naughton said. “I got more comfortable with the older girls. They led by example every drill, and I followed what they did.
“Eventually, I got used to the pitchers and how fast the ball came off the bat in this age group. I got better my eighth grade and freshman years, but last year was when I really stopped feeling those nerves.”
That was especially true at the plate.
“I stopped trying to hit the ball out (of the ballpark) every time I went up there,” she said. “I just started worrying about putting the bat on the ball and doing the best I could. That worked pretty well for me.”
Naughton – who will be a senior at Cheyenne Central this fall – is now the player setting the example, Galicia said.
“There are people on this team who work as hard as she does, but nobody outworks her,” he said. “She shows up to every practice we have, even the extra ones that are optional. She has put in the time, and it has really paid off for her.”
Cheyenne’s roster lists Naughton as a third baseman, catcher and outfielder. She was part of a three-player rotation at catcher with Trista Stehwein and Maggie Seghetti. Seghetti isn’t playing this summer, and Extreme didn’t add any catchers. That means Naughton will see a lot more time behind the plate, which is where her extra efforts may have yielded the most dividends. She has gone from struggling to block errant pitches to being a solid backstop.
“When we get to bracket play on Sundays, we can’t afford to give up extra runs,” Galicia said. “The catchers have to get dirty, block balls and make plays. (Naughton) was doing everything but that before. I have no doubt she can do that now.
“She had to relax and get more confident. She got the extra reps and became a lot more confident in what she was doing.”