No one could touch the Eagle High softball team in 2016.
The undefeated Mustangs won their second straight 5A state championship and finished the season ranked No. 1 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Softball Rankings, outscoring opponents 378-26.
But the start of this season saw the Mustangs’ 43-game winning streak end at the hands of Rocky Mountain, last year’s state runner-up. The Grizzlies edged the Mustangs 2-0 behind junior pitcher Katelyn Wilfert’s three-hit shutout March 17.
It was Eagle’s first loss since May 5, 2015.
Despite the setback, Eagle remains the unanimous pick to win the 5A Southern Idaho Conference title, according to a preseason coaches’ poll.
Below, we identify the early conference frontrunners and some of the top players to watch this spring.
The reigning national champs return five starters — center fielder Noelle Foster, catcher Rachel Menlove, pitcher/shortstop Autumn Moffat, first baseman Hailey Fisher and infielder Kelly Kukla. They’ve won 44 of their past 45 games, but must replace standout pitcher/shortstop Bradie Fillmore, now a freshman at Cal. The Mustangs’ returning lettermen combined for 32 home runs last season. Sophomore Gabi Peters, who is committed to Boise State, will see time in the circle alongside Moffat.
The Grizzlies are clear contenders after upending Eagle 2-0 earlier this season. Rocky Mountain finished second at state last year and welcomes back nine starters along with coach Brian White, who returns after a three-year absence. White led Eagle to a state title in 2008.
The Warriors are bound to be fired up after missing out on a state tournament berth because of a 5-3 loss to Coeur d’Alene in last year’s play-in game. Eight starters are back, including four who have signed to play at the next level — Lexi Knauss (Montana), Keana Reyes-Burke (Hawaii-Hilo), Devon Stapleton (North Idaho) and Shea Anderson (Spokane CC).
THE DARK HORSE
The 2016 4A District Three champions lost one starter from last year’s team, which fell in the 4A state semifinals. The Kavemen have made a smooth transition to the 5A SIC this spring with only one loss (Eagle) in their first six games, including a 4-1 win over Rocky Mountain on Thursday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
AUTUMN MOFFAT, EAGLE
The senior pitcher has signed with BYU and was a first-team all-5A SIC pick last season. Moffat posted a 0.81 ERA with 102 strikeouts, seven shutouts and four no-hitters while batting .515 in 2016.
KATELYN WILFERT, ROCKY MOUNTAIN
The junior pitcher has already proven she’s strong in the circle, limiting hard-hitting Eagle to three hits in a shutout earlier this season. She’s a returning all-5A SIC first teamer.
LEXI KNAUSS, MERIDIAN
She batted .625 last season, landing on the all-5A SIC first team. The senior shortstop has signed with Montana. The 5-foot-2 powerhouse has led the Warriors in home runs since she was a freshman.
HAILEY FISHER, EAGLE
The senior first baseman is solid on defense and a tough out at the plate, hitting nine home runs with 32 RBIs while batting .430 in 2016. Fisher has signed with Weber State.
MICHALA KLEFFNER, KUNA
The co-player of the year in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference last season commands the circle and is strong at the plate. As a junior, Kleffner finished with a 1.95 ERA.
RACHEL MENLOVE, EAGLE
The senior catcher, who has signed with Portland State, had one passed ball out of 2,162 pitches in 155 innings in 2016. Menlove batted .458 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs a year ago.
5A SIC coaches’ poll
1. Eagle (12)
2. Rocky Mountain
4. Mountain View
Note: First-place votes in parentheses.