Sanchez brings championship mentality to Pike Lib Softball

Published 9:12 am Thursday, June 22, 2023

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Tori (Free) Sanchez has hit the ground running after being named head coach of Pike Liberal Arts Softball and has some lofty goals for her team.

Sanchez was a star pitcher at Luverne High School and went on to break a number of pitching records at St. John’s University, including the school’s all-time strikeout record. After two years as an assistant coach at St. John’s, Sanchez took over as head coach at Highland Home, where she’s led the Lady Flying Squadron for the past three seasons.

“I think what made me make the decision was how close of a family it was here,” Sanchez said of coming to Pike Lib. “I really want my daughter to grow up and be in a community that felt like a family for her.”

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Sanchez has already set high expectations for her new team, as well.

“Ultimately, I want to bring home a state championship,” she emphasized. “They competed in the area last year and I saw a lot of potential that was there. I truly think that with a little more push and drive they’ll be able to compete more in the area and win the area. Winning area and advancing to regionals is the first step and then hopefully from there, go to state.”

Sanchez puts heavy emphasis on the work it takes to reach the level her team wants to reach.

Former St. John’s star pitcher Tori (Free) Sanchez was hired as the new Pike Lib softball coach recently. (Photo courtesy of St. John’s University Athletics)

“It takes more work than what everyone thinks,” she said. “For me, it was new coming up for people around our area to make it to the next level. Still, people don’t know what it takes, on the communication side, to get to that level. I’ve coached at that level, too, and I think a lot of girls don’t realize how important the work is.”

While there may have not been as many college softball players from the area for players like Sanchez to look up to it when growing up, there are plenty now. Along with the success that Sanchez had, Leanna Johnson grew up just down the road in Brantley and went on to be a record-setting pitcher at Troy University

“With more and more girls having success from here it’s just opening more doors,” Sanchez said. “Kayden Dunn (from Brantley) at Troy and Kaylee Navarre from Brantley and now Hannah Sparrow at Charles Henderson are all getting opportunities at the next level. There have been quite a few from Charles Henderson that have gone on to play at the next level.
“I think more and more local talent getting that opportunity drives more to say, ‘This is possible for me.’ To reach that dream you have to be willing to put in the work, though.”

Sanchez not only knows what it takes to reach the next level, she’s also helped her players reach that level.

“Jeci Taylor was the first Highland Home softball player to commit to play somewhere at the next level,” Sanchez recalled. “When I first talked to her, I asked her if she had any dreams to play (in college) and she said that she did when she was younger but that she wasn’t that good.

“I told her that she was that good and she said that no one had ever told her she was good enough, so she just put it off. We made a video of her and sent it out to coaches and one got back to me immediately wanting to sign her. Building that confidence in kids and showing them how to communicate, and how to reach out (to college coaches), is very important. That gave her that boost of confidence she needed.”