Varsity Extra

5A SIC softball preview: Perennial power returns loaded. But it has plenty of competition.

The 5A Southern Idaho Conference stands as the undisputed power center for Idaho’s high school softball, winning the last five state titles and sweeping all four state tournament trophies last season.

The league saw a sea change last year as perennial power Eagle failed to win its third straight district title and its fourth straight state championship. But the Mustangs return stacked and enter the season as the unanimous preseason favorite, according to a coaches poll.

So who can knock off Eagle, and who are the league’s top players to watch this season? We broke down the candidates below.

[Related: 5A SIC baseball preview]

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Gabi Peters, Eagle.JPG
Eagle senior Gabi Peters has verbally committed to a full-ride scholarship from the Stanford softball program. Courtesy of Jacki Corta

Gabi Peters, P, Eagle

The senior with a 70 mph fastball isn’t just one of the best players in Idaho. She’s one of the top talents in the West and has signed a full-ride scholarship with Stanford.

The reigning SIC player of the year remains a force inside the pitcher’s circle and at the plate. She went 11-2 with a 1.39 ERA last season while striking out 176 in 106 innings. She also hit .474 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs, finishing the season slugging 1.000.

Siera Horton, P, Eagle

The senior teams with Peters to form a dominating pair of pitchers for the Mustangs. The College of Southern Idaho commit posted a 17-0 record last season with an 0.86 ERA, striking out 127 with just 22 walks.

While Peters can overpower hitters, Horton has the breaking balls to keep opponents guessing.

Kaylan Walker, SS, Rocky Mountain

The Dixie State signee remains a threat to change the course of a game with a single swing thanks to her monster power. The senior shortstop led the 5A SIC with 20 home runs last year and is the favorite to repeat again.

Lolo Walker, C/3B, Rocky Mountain

A solid glove at multiple positions earned the younger Walker sister a spot on the all-conference first team last year alongside her sibling. She’s patient and powerful at the plate, forcing and pouncing on mistakes from opposing pitchers. But she’ll also drop down a bunt if she catches infielders sneaking back.

Riley McGrath, OF, Mountain View

The outfielder burst onto the scene as a freshman last year, earning first-team all-conference honors after hitting .535 with 14 home runs. With her speed in the outfield, power at the plate and bat control to cover every area of the strike zone, expect to see her raking in the postseason awards again.

Abigail Gagnon, SS, Meridian

The Northwest Nazarene signee enters her fourth season in the Warriors’ starting lineup. She hit .498 last season with two home runs and 28 doubles, but her true threat lies in the field. She can range to both sides and “has a cannon for an arm,” Eagle coach Nicole Rollins said.

Can’t see the above preseason coaches’ poll on your phone? Click here for the full 5A SIC poll.

THE FAVORITE

EAGLE MUSTANGS

Last season: 28-3-1, 16-0 5A SIC

Coach: Nicole Rollins, fourth season

Key players: Siera Horton, sr.; Gabi Peters, sr.; Jaxie Klucewich, sr.; Sydney Groves, fr.

After finishing second at state last year, the perennial power returns loaded for another shot at a title. The Mustangs return two of the top pitchers in the league in Horton and Peters, who posted a combined 1.10 ERA with 303 strikeouts last season. And they’ve added a third arm in junior transfer Haylee Bryant from California.

Eagle took a relative step back from its slugging days last year. But with six returning starters and a host of incoming talent — including 14-year-old freshman third baseman Sydney Groves, who’s already hit 34 home runs in her club career — the balls should start flying out of the park again.

“We have a deeper, more powerful roster than we have had in the last four years,” Rollins said.

THE CONTENDERS

ROCKY MOUNTAIN GRIZZLIES

Last season: 27-4, 14-2 5A SIC

Coach: Brian White, eighth season

Key players: Kaylan Walker, sr.; Lolo Walker, so.

The reigning district champ and fourth-place finisher at state starts the season with question marks all around the field. The Walker sisters swing two of the most powerful bats in the state, but they are two of just four returning starters.

White said the Grizzlies have loads of flexible players, allowing him to move girls all around the field to find the right combination. But the first priority is finding an ace pitcher to replace the graduated Katelyn Wilfert, a four-year starter.

MOUNTAIN VIEW MAVERICKS

Last season: 23-7, 12-4 5A SIC

Coach: Sam Christensen, second season

Key players: Riley McGrath, so.; Emily Alandt, sr.; Alex Pinkston, jr.; Karly Snooks, sr.

Opponents will have a tough time getting a ball to land in the Mavericks’ outfield. Led by McGrath and Alandt, a second-team all-conference selection who hit .407 with 23 stolen bases, the Mavericks can turn anything not hit on the ground or over the fence into outs.

With six returning starters from last year’s third-place team at state, Mountain View starts the season with plenty of depth. Christensen said his roster goes 14 players deep, and any one of them can start on any given day.

0510 5ad3softball 03
Boise’s Hope Shimatsu avoids the tag of Rocky Mountain’s Kaylan Walker during the district championship game last spring. Both are key returning players for their teams this season. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

THE DARK HORSES

MERIDIAN WARRIORS

Last season: 17-9, 12-4 5A SIC

Coach: Thomas Pinkley, 13th season

Key players: Abigail Gagnon, sr.; Sam Desloover, sr.; Jordyn Miller, sr.; Deb Overby, sr.

The Warriors missed out on state last year and haven’t won a trophy since 2015. But with seven starters back, Meridian has the pieces to make a run this year.

Pinkley said he’ll rely on his seven seniors, including four-year starters in Gagnon, Desloover and Miller. The Warriors also get a boost as Desloover, who hit 10 home runs as a sophomore, returns fully healthy. The leadoff hitter and second baseman hit .517 last season just from the left side of the plate, but she should return to switch hitting.

BOISE BRAVES

Last season: 19-11, 11-5 5A SIC

Coach: Tony Zaragoza, first season

Key players: Karsyn Zaragoza, sr.; Hope Shimatsu, jr.; Taiana Round, sr.; Revi Brown, sr.

The defending state champ finds itself rebuilding on the fly as it breaks in a new head coach and returns just four starters. All four earned at least an honorable mention spot on the all-conference team, including Brown, who steps into the role as ace pitcher. But the Braves don’t have much varsity experience outside their core of returners.

THE UNDERDOGS

TIMBERLINE WOLVES

Last season: 17-12, 9-7 5A SIC

Coach: Todd Amundson, first season

Key players: Jessie Tomlinson, jr.; Malia Smith, jr.; Carly Kawamura, jr.; Naomi Butterfield, jr.

The Wolves started a youth movement last season, one that led them all the way to a state play-in game. Six starters return a year older and more confident, Amundson said, including a strong junior class.

CAPITAL EAGLES

Last season: 11-16, 5-11 5A SIC

Coach: Shane Alder, 13th season

Key players: None provided

The Eagles must start from scratch this season with just one returning starter. The graduation of first-team all-conference catcher Nicole Powers leaves a hole. But with two healthy and reliable pitchers in Allie Laufenburger and Makayln Ashbaker, Capital has some depth inside the pitcher’s circle.

SKYVIEW HAWKS

Last season: 3-21-1, 0-14 4A SIC

Coach: Kendra Caldwell, first season

Key players: Taylor Brewer, fr.; Summer Makinster, fr.; Lily Justesen, fr.

Skyview didn’t win a 4A conference game last year and hasn’t made the 4A state tournament since 2014. But a strong freshman class gives the Hawks plenty of talent as they move up to 5A, talent that has earned them early respect.

CENTENNIAL PATRIOTS

Last season: 4-20, 2-14 5A SIC

Coach: Scott McFarland, second season

Key players: Sophia Diffin, jr.; Brooklin Champion, so.; Grace Diffin, fr.; Carly Boisvert, fr.

The Patriots took their lumps last year with 20 losses. But they also bring back a ton of experience with seven returning starters and nine returning varsity players. Sophia Diffin and Champion lead the group after earning second-team all-conference honors last season.

BORAH LIONS

Last season: 2-21, 1-15 5A SIC

Coach: Missy Wheeler, ninth season

Key players: Sammi Black, sr.; Isabel Longoria, jr.

Borah scored a 5A SIC-low 3.4 runs per game last year. But with seven returning starters and 10 varsity players back, Wheeler expects that number to increase significantly. Black leads the lineup after hitting .481 last season and will serve as the Lions’ catcher and captain.

  Comments