The golden era of Greater Spokane League softball – pitching in particular, it can be argued – was ushered in during 1998 when all four State 4A berths went to Spokane teams.
That year pitchers Cheryl Andrizzi (University), Jessica Murray (Shadle Park), Janessa Karstens (Ferris) and Kylie Curry (Ferris) led an unprecedented sweep of four state berths against Big Nine schools.
“That was truly a special year,” said Laurie Smith, who coached the ’98 Saxons and is entering her third season back as Ferris coach after a seven-year hiatus. “There’s not been the dominant pitching, other than Sam and Kelsie, there was then.”
The 2005 season might have rivaled that of ’98 for pitching depth, when three teams qualified for state and ultimately sent six pitchers on to college. Five are still throwing, including Shadle’s Samantha Skillingstad and North Central’s Kelsie Vallies, who completed illustrious four-year careers last season.
During the past 11 years, the GSL sent 27 teams to state, qualifying three teams five times and at least half the region’s state berths every season but one. The league enjoyed its most success over the past six seasons, winning six trophies beginning with a first State 4A championship by U-Hi in 2003. Since then, Shadle has finished fourth, second twice (in 2006 and ’08) and won state in 2007. That same year NC was fourth in 3A.
An era may have ended with the departure of high-profile hurlers Skillingstad and Vallies to Oregon and Arkansas, respectively.
“I think losing those pitchers from last year we take a shot,” Highlanders coach George Lynn said.
But if that means a new year begins with less certainty on the mound, it also means greater hope in more softball camps.
“I just think it evens everybody out,” said Mead coach John Barrington, who returns his two pitchers from last year’s regional qualifying team. Take away the hard-throwing pitchers, there’s a greater opportunity to play defense and we have a better chance to put the ball in play.”
Yet neither Barrington nor Jon Schuh, coach of traditional regional and state-qualifier U-Hi, are ready to concede a dearth of pitching ability. If not as dominant as Skillingstad and Vallies, it is spread out among more teams.
“I think there is good pitching in the league, still,” Barrington said. “I like our two girls (Taneesha Pounder and Alicia Meade). They’ve worked their butts off.”
Schuh said the league still has a number of veteran pitchers, including two in the Titans’ camp.
“I just think everybody has a girl who pitched the year before,” he said. “If they got better (in the off-season), they’ll have pretty good velocity.”
Central Valley’s Alyssa Erickson hurled the Bears to State 4A last year. Delaney Zalud pitched Mt. Spokane to 3A regional. Kendall Pavey helped Lewis and Clark reach district. There are youngsters in the wings, including East Valley’s Tiffany Lucas.
“She’s good,” EV coach Kurt Krauth said. “As you know, (a pitcher is) one person who makes more of a difference in softball than any other sport.”
Still, the focus may be more on offense and defense by position players, five of whom are headed to Division I programs, than on pitching dominance.
“Is the offense going to be more involved in the equation? Are we going to see a few more runs scored?” Schuh asked. “I don’t know if there’s that dominant pitcher yet.”
“We’re a different team this year, of course,” said Lynn, spoiled by four years of Skillingstad, who pitched the Highlanders to three state finals. “Now we have to put some runs on the board.”
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