Varsity Extra

5A, 4A softball preview: Can anyone stop Idaho’s most commanding dynasty?

Delayna Waite, left, and Kate Kukla are two of the seven returning starters for Eagle, the three-time defending state champion.
Delayna Waite, left, and Kate Kukla are two of the seven returning starters for Eagle, the three-time defending state champion. Coeur d’Alene Press

The Eagle High softball team has built one of the state’s top dynasties, regardless of sport.

The Mustangs won three straight state titles, finished one season as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation by MaxPreps.com and have mounted an 88-3 record the past three years.

Opponents around the 5A Southern Idaho Conference continue to wait for the Mustangs’ talent pool to run dry, or at least shallower. Graduation continues to rob Eagle of Division I talent, but each year it just reloads.

But could this be the year someone knocks off the Mustangs? And who will emerge from the 4A SIC, which has won 15 of the 17 state titles since Idaho added a 4A classification?

We break down the top teams and players to watch in both leagues below.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Gabi Peters, Eagle

The junior pitcher can mow hitters down with a 67 mph fastball and an arsenal of offspeed pitches. She’s also a nightmare at the plate with her power, clearing the scoreboard at Eagle multiple times. Seattle University has extended an offer.

Noelle Foster, Eagle

The junior outfielder has verbally committed to Weber State. Few balls will fall in the Mustangs’ outfield thanks to her speed and tracking ability. And she’s added power (eight home runs in 2017) to go along with her high batting average.

Katelyn Wilfert, Rocky Mountain

A starter inside the circle since she was a freshman, the senior gives the Grizzlies a wealth of experience to build around. Her location and movement keep opposing hitters off balance, and she’ll do plenty damage of her own in the heart of the lineup.

Nicole Powers, Capital

The Eagles’ senior catcher controls the running game with her cannon of an arm. And she can change the game with a single swing of the bat with power to all fields.

Lainey Lyle, Middleton

The junior pitcher is already a two-time, 4A SIC Player of the Year and has committed to North Dakota State. She’ll paint the corners to keep hitters guessing, and she’ll step into a larger role for the Vikings’ offense this spring.

Gracie Walters, Ridgevue

Walters made quite a debut as a freshman, going 18-6 with a 1.63 ERA and 258 strikeouts to lead the Warhawks to a state runner-up finish. Her ability to blow by hitters up in the zone makes her a double-digit strikeout threat each time she steps into the circle.

Ryan Floyd, Mountain Home

The senior can play all nine positions for the Tigers with her athleticism and competitiveness. She remains one of the toughest outs in 4A, and she’ll serve as one of Mountain Home’s top pitchers too.

5A SIC BREAKDOWN

Rocky Katelyn Wilfert
Rocky Mountain will rely on ace Katelyn Wilfert, a four-year starter, in the pitcher’s circle and at the plate. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

THE FAVORITE: Fresh off its third straight state title, Eagle returns seven starters and six players either committed to a college program or with an offer already in hand.

The Mustangs remain formidable in the pitching circle with Gabi Peters and Siera Horton forming a one-two punch. And while Eagle has graduated many of the big boppers that allowed it to launch home runs at will the past three years, it still fields a potent lineup with plenty of speed, led by Noelle Foster, Kate Kukla and Demi Corta.

THE CONTENDER: With seven starters back from last year’s state qualifier, Rocky Mountain stands as the top threat to Eagle’s dynasty.

Katelyn Wilfert gives the Grizzlies a four-year starter inside the pitching circle with the stuff to shut down even the most dominant lineups. And Kaylan Walker, a Dixie State commit, poses a threat each time she comes to the plate with power to all fields.

“(It’s) best to just walk her,” Meridian coach Thomas Pinkley said.

THE DARK HORSES: Boise edged out Eagle for the 5A SIC regular-season title, finished third at state and returns its entire starting lineup.

Senior pitcher Eden Cook, a first-team all-conference pick, gives the Braves a top-line starter. If the Braves can get production from the bottom of their lineup and set the table for mashers like Cook and Grace Shimatsu, they can make another deep postseason run.

Meanwhile, Mountain View remains young with just three seniors. But with all-conference picks Emily Alandt (first team), Mari Peralta (second team) and Alyssa Millemon (second team) returning, the Mavericks are poised to shake up the SIC’s pecking order.

4A SIC BREAKDOWN

THE FAVORITE: Graduation hit Middleton, the two-time defending state champ, hard with just three returning starters. But the Vikings’ battery remains one of the state’s best.

The reigning conference player of the year, Lyle, and first-team all-conference pitcher Reylene Cortes (College of Idaho) give Middleton an embarrassment of riches inside the pitching circle. And they’ll both throw to senior catcher Eleonora Conley, a four-year starter and first-team all-league pick.

THE CONTENDER: Bishop Kelly returns seven starters and seven all-conference picks from last year’s state qualifier, fielding a young lineup with plenty of power.

Six players already have hit a home run early in the season for the Knights. Juniors Darby Atkins and Jaylynn Stinson lead a talented group at the plate, while sophomore Riley Jones gives the Knights a strikeout pitcher to silence 4A’s top lineups.

THE DARK HORSE: Ridgevue surprised everyone with a second-place finish at state a year ago as a first-year program. And the Warhawks bring back eight starters to make another run.

Walters, a first-team all-conference pick as a freshman, will keep Ridgevue in every game. But Warhawks coach Dave Kemper said his team will need to hit in the clutch to make it out of the always tough 4A SIC.

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama

Coaches’ polls

5A SIC

Team (1st-place votes)

Last season

Pts

1. Eagle (8)

29-2

107

2. Rocky Mtn. (1)

18-9

99

t-3. Boise

23-9

80

t-3. Mtn. View

12-11

80

5. Meridian

19-9

72

6. Timberline

10-17

71

7. Kuna

21-8

51

8. Capital

18-11

49

9. Nampa

6-19

30

10. Borah

4-18

28

11. Centennial

3-17

26

12. Columbia

0-24

9

4A SIC

Team (1st-place votes)

Last year

Pts

1. Middleton (5)

30-4

54

2. Bishop Kelly (1)

19-9

47

3. Ridgevue (1)

22-9-2

45

4. Vallivue

17-11

34

5. Mtn. Home

8-14

29

6. Caldwell

9-14-1

19

t-7. Emmett

5-21

12

t-7. Skyview

4-21

12

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