West Valley Preps
Theirs is not your typical father- coaches-daughter-in-softball story.
To start with, Paul Hatcher always considered himself a baseball coach, spending 13 years as an assistant at Glendale Community College plus serving as the Gauchos’ head coach in 2010 and 2011.
Growing up his daughter, Katie, did not want to play softball. So she mixed it up with the boys in Surprise youth baseball leagues.
“It kind of made me tougher. I was used to playing with the boys. I didn’t even want to play softball because I thought girls were too easy,” Katie Hatcher said. “But then I played it, and they’re just as tough. Everything comes at you faster and you have to have a faster swing. Ground balls are closer, the bases are closer and everything is smaller.”
Turns out, she’s pretty good at softball, too. Katie became a fixture in her freshman year, batting .471 Hatcher never coached his daughter in the Surprise youth leagues.
“She always had a love for the game and her instincts were very good. She enjoyed it at a young age without me pushing it,” Paul Hatcher said. While it may look calculated from the outside, the father coaching his daughter at the fairly new charter school in Surprise was more of a happy accident.
Katie did not go to classes at Paradise Education Center, but her family decided Paradise Honors was the best high school in the area and enrolled her there. She played for coach Zack Delmont her freshman year, while Paul Hatcher served as a part-time assistant on a 17-6 team that lost in the first round of the Division IV playoffs.
When Delmont left the program, Hatcher reluctantly accepted the job. In the course of three years, it has turned to his favorite career move, for reasons that go beyond coaching his daughter.
“I asked the principal at the time, ‘Who is the new coach?’ He said, ‘You are.’ I originally didn’t think it would work. I made sure Katie thought it was ok and called back an hour later and said I’ll take it. It’s the greatest thing and best job I’ve ever had,” Hatcher said. “I tell the girls a lot that they’ve led me to retire from college baseball — with the way they play, listen and compete.”
While Paradise Honors stayed in Division IV in 2016, it represented a slight step up. Arizona added a fifth division so the state’s smallest high schools were now off the Panthers’ schedule.
Paradise Honors finished 18-6, falling to Eagar Round Valley in the first round of the playoffs. Katie led the team with a .640 average and 48 runs scored. She also split duties as the team’s top pitcher.
“I didn’t know what to expect at first but I knew he was going to make the team better since he’s such a good coach. I knew I wasn’t going to be treated like a daughter. I was going to be like everyone else,” Katie Hatcher said.
Katie Hatcher said her early experiences made her a better teammate. Fellow senior Alyssa Anderson has been a varsity mainstay alongside Hatcher, while classmate Christine Mc-Mullen joined the varsity her sophomore year.
By last season, the trio was in leadership roles along with Anderson’s older sister, Samantha.
The program continued its steady progress with a 19-5 record and its first playoff win against Chandler Prep before losing to eventual 2A champion Benson. Katie batted .610 with 47 runs and improved as a pitcher, finishing 13-2 with a 4.16 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 101 innings.
“The first two years we made the state tournament we were kind of happy to be there. Now everybody knows who we are and there are a lot of expectations. We certainly think we can go farther and have the people to do it,” Paul Hatcher said.
This year’s team is 13-4 overall and 11-2 in the regular season, good for the No. 6 ranking in 2A. But some results, like a 12-1 win against Phoenix Bourgade Catholic and a 3-2 loss to No, 3 Camp Verde on April 3, suggest the Panthers will be more dangerous in this year’s playoffs.
Plus the clock is ticking for the three seniors and juniors Ashlyn Buntin, Angelina Dytri and Alex Patacz.
“I think it made us hungrier. We don’t want to feel that pain of losing again, and our season being over and not being to play together anymore. We want to go out strong,” Katie Hatcher said.
Freshmen will play a big role for the Panthers. Hatcher hits .500 with a team-high 36 RBI and 34 runs but is not alone in this lineup.
Freshman Brylee Bilger has 32 RBI and is batting .537. Fellow freshman Ledezma Romero is a platoon player but is hitting .585. And frosh Miranda Mathis has taken some of the pitching pressure off Hatcher.
“I don’t have much to teach them physically but it’s nice to be there when they experience things for the first time. You’re able to help them mature,” Katie Hatcher said.
She has made her greatest leap as a pitcher this year, sporting a 2.25 ERA, 8-3 record and 62 strikeouts in 56 innings “Over the years she’s become a very good pitcher with maturity and instincts. Before, she was just a thrower,” Paul Hatcher said.
It looks like this will be her last competitive season on any kind of diamond.
Katie Hatcher will study nursing at Grand Canyon University and does not have a scholarship offer to the ‘Lopes NCAA Division I team. Studying in such a time-consuming major and walking on for softball is probably not in the cards. Her older brother, Paul, is already at GCU.
That only makes her more intent to finish her career as a Panther by helping her team vie for a state title.
“I want to help people and the medical field interests me. My brother goes to GCU, so I get to be with him,” Katie Hatcher said. “I’m going to go all out.”