You want a theme among area high school softball teams this spring?
Like it seems to be every year, things should start and begin with pitching – especially among the four 5A Inland Empire League teams. All four of those teams return their top pitchers and each is committed to play in college.
The chase for the lone automatic state berth among the 5A teams should be as fierce as ever. The regional runner-up also can earn a state berth in a play-in game with the District III fifth-place team.
“This year is going to be the tightest the league has ever been,” Coeur d’Alene coach Larry Bieber said. “Nobody will go undefeated (in league) for sure.”
It could be as competitive among the three 4A teams – although Lakeland has opted to be an independent team. Still, the Hawks will play most of the league teams so it should show where they stack up. Just one state berth is available.
In the Intermountain League, Timberlake should continue to be the class of the conference. The top two teams advance to state.
The 5A (CdA) and 4A (Post Falls) state tournaments will be held in the area this year while the 3A state tourney will be at Kimberly.
Here’s a look at the area teams.
The Vikings (20-9 overall, 13-5 league) return eight lettermen including five starters.
The returning starters are seniors Amber Coburn (pitcher/leftfielder), Amanda Boulliard (second base), Jessica Kraft (shortstop) and Lindsey Ritzheimer (first baseman) and sophomore Jessica Lupinacci (centerfielder/shortstop).
The other returning lettermen are seniors Jessica Dotts (third baseman) and Kathy Comack (p/outfielder), and junior Krissy Chissie (of).
Others who will battle for playing time are senior Mariah Shaw (of/utility), juniors Jessica Eppers (catcher) and Kristina Goodwin (1b/of) and sophomores Hailey Petit (c) and Rachelle Gage (of).
Coburn has signed a letter of intent to play at Delaware State. She returns as the Vikings’ No. 1 pitcher and will be backed up by Comack.
Kraft (.321) led the Viks in hitting last year, followed by Boulliard (.307) and Ritzheimer (.294).
“I like this group. There’s a mixture of experience and youth,” Bieber said. “But there’s a lot of experience overall.”
The Viks finished second in the league behind champion Lake City, but CdA captured the Region I championship. At state, the Viks were one pitch away from knocking off eventual state champ Eagle in the second round, but the Mustangs scored two runs with two outs in the eighth inning to win 2-1.
The loss was so disheartening to the Viks that they fell in a loser-out game to Lewiston, which ended up taking fourth.
State left a bitter taste in the Viks’ mouths.
“This is the third year on varsity for some of the seniors and they were sophomores when we last won (state),” Bieber said.
Bieber knows what will be the difference between the four 5A teams.
In a word, defense.
“It’s going to come down to which team plays the best defense,” Bieber said. “That’s what we’re stressing. You have to be ready for teams to put the ball in play. The team that plays the best defense and stays behind its pitcher will win.”
The league’s player of the year returns in senior Lela Work (p/ss).
Work is joined by three other returning starters. They are seniors Jessica Ross (c/of) and Jennifer Robertson (of), and junior Jamie Hall (2b). The other returning letterman is junior Kallie Neal (p/3b).
Others who will contribute are senior Jenna Fordham (1b/of), juniors Annie Chadderdon (of) and Alycia Barrowcliff (1b/of), sophomores Becky Short (ss) and Avalon Leddy (of) and freshman Kory Kritz (c/1b).
Work has signed with Boise State and Ross is headed to NIC.
“We’re going to count on them for a lot of leadership,” LC coach Laura Tolzmann said. “I’m hoping their work ethic rubs off on the younger players.”
Tolzmann pointed out another interesting thing that the four 5A teams have in common. Most are breaking in new catchers.
In LC’s situation, the Timberwolves (20-6, 15-2 league champs) have moved starting centerfielder Ross to catcher. Tolzmann hopes to develop Kritz so she can move Ross back to center.
Tolzmann said her younger players are set on trying to get LC back to state for the first time since 2006 – when Work and Ross were freshmen.
“I think it’s going to be pretty tight in league,” she said. “It’s going to come down to whoever gets the big hit or big error.”
The Trojans (16-10, 12-6) keep getting closer to earning their first 5A state berth. They’re so close they can taste it.
There’s no reason why they can’t break through this year.
The Trojans return seven lettermen, five of whom were starters. They are seniors Blake Meredith (p/1b), Monze Kaufman (of) and Stephanie Peugh (ss) and juniors Richelle Ashburn (p/1b) and Bri Joseph (2b).
The other returning lettermen are seniors Angela Barr (c) and Kristy Tessier (3b).
Post Falls coach Jack Foster had a surprise addition in senior Jordan Schoening, a four-year starter in basketball who is headed to Eastern Washington University. Schoening played for Foster and started as a freshman. She will play outfield this spring.
“She can play anywhere,” Foster said. “I’m very glad she’s back.”
Others who will play are juniors Kaycie Gibson (2b/of) and Maria Aparicio (of) and sophomores Mykala Gibbs (c) and Tori Schuler (utility).
The Trojans’ lineup will consist of six seniors.
“That’s the most I’ve had as long as I can remember,” Foster said.
The program continues to develop at PF, too. PF is the lone school in the region to field a freshman team.
Foster likes the make up of his team.
“They like to play,” Foster said. “They’re very enthusiastic. They’re working very hard. Their knees are so beat up from being in the gym, diving on the floor. They’ve made the most of being in the gym.”
The key for the Trojans will be hitting.
“We’ve got some talent, we’ll just have to hit the ball,” Foster said. “Pitching wise, we’re as good as anybody.”
In fact, the Trojans may have the deepest staff with Meredith, who has signed with the University of South Carolina Upstate, and Ashburn.
“I think we’re all pretty equal in the league,” Foster said. “I think each team has a shot.”
The Hawks (15-14) had a breakthrough year last season, taking fourth at state.
The core of the team returns. Nine lettermen return including seven starters. They are senior Alisha Watson (p/2b), juniors Chelsea Campbell (3b), Alexis Jacobson (lf), Jamie Klopatek (p), Jordan Thomas (cf) and Alyana Watson (ss) and sophomore Alia Cox (c).
Other lettermen back are senior Kat Neelon (rf) and junior Rachel Grawcock (of). Others who will battle for playing time are senior Ashley Barr (utility) and juniors Shelby Kunas (1b) and Courtney Schelin (2b/of).
Klopatek, Thomas, Campbell and Alyana Watson are entering their third year as starters.
“The girls are really team players,” Lakeland coach Colleen Bevacqua said. “They’ve really matured. Last year we were mainly a sophomore core group. There’s a big difference in maturity between sophomores and juniors. We had a successful season last year and we just want to continue that and grow from that.”
Bevacqua said the majority of her players took advantage of a new inside hitting cage in the upstairs of the school’s new gym. She hopes the extra time in the cage pays off this year.
“Offensively, our goal is to get better,” Bevacqua said. “That’s been our main emphasis since last year.”
Although her team will be favored among the 4A teams, Bevacqua expects battles from Sandpoint and Moscow.
“Moscow always has a competitive team,” Bevacqua said. “Sandpoint has been working really hard in the offseason and they’ll have more maturity this year. Sandpoint played us tough at district last year.”
The Bulldogs (1-25, 0-14) return six lettermen including five starters.
The starters who return are seniors Jarae Marienau (of) and Nicole Adams (of), and juniors Rachel Hammack (ss), Heather Merwin (3b/1b) and Molly Givens (p/2b).
The other returning letterman is senior Andrea Miller (of).
Others who will play are seniors Jessica Tucker (c) and Sierra Rodriguez (3b/c), junior Meghan Hamilton (utility), sophomore Kym DaVault (p/1b) and freshman C.J. Semones (1b).
“I like the new players we have blending in with the returning players,” Sandpoint coach Derek Dickinson said. “We’ve got a lot of flexibility. We’re flexible but not great at any one thing yet. We’ve got a lot of potential in various areas.”
Where the Bulldogs need the most work is infield defense.
“It’s a little weak,” Dickinson said. “Our outfield will be solid. It’s the best outfield I’ve ever had.”
Sandpoint hopes to challenge Lakeland and Moscow.
Last year was sort of looked at as a rebuilding year. All the Tigers (18-8, 12-0) did was place fourth at state.
Nine lettermen including eight starters return. They are seniors Afton Allred (p/2b), Brittany Amende (ss), Tasha Palmer (c), Lacy Tomason (3b) and Vanessa Goldsberry (of/2b), juniors Megan Hill (cf) and Jennifer Bitner, (1b/of) and sophomore Halee Edelblute (2b).
The other returning letterman is junior Jordyn Muhlhauser (1b/of).
Two freshmen round out the roster. They are Nicole Cameron (p/1b) and Ashlei Jerome (c/of).
“It’s nice having senior leadership,” Timberlake coach Mike Menti said. “They come to practice and since most of them have been with me for four years they understand what needs to be done and that makes practices easy.”
Allred has signed with Cleveland State where she will join her older sister, Kayla. Amende has signed with North Idaho College.
“Talent wise, we’re right up there with the best teams we’ve had,” Menti said.
What will make being successful at state difficult this year is the fact that the teams that placed ahead of the Tigers also were young.
“Our goal is still to win the state title,” Menti said. “That’s what it should be. We’ll take it one game at a time and have fun. We’re going to have fun and do things right and however it ends up, it ends up.”
No other Intermountain League team will challenge the Tigers.