It’s not every year a league’s most valuable player returns for a senior season. It’s even more rare for a state-caliber squad to feature 10 seniors.
But that’s what Lewis and Clark fastpitch softball coach Paul Neff and star pitcher Kylie Pester had to look forward to this spring.
“Every year we have our seniors sign the door on the inside of our shed,” Neff said. “And every year it’s two or three seniors – some years we only have one.
“But when you have 10 girls that have made it through all four years and they’re ready to finalize their years of work with one final season, I mean, it’s just that nobody has that type of numbers.”
Neff echoed a sentiment familiar across the country as fields remain empty under state orders of social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Every time you started think about it, you know, you kind of get a little teary-eyed and you just feel bad for them,” Neff said.
The Tigers felt like they were poised to make a run at state after missing by one game last year, dropping a 5-0 decision to Chiawana in the District 8 third-place game.
As one of the top arms in the state, Pester won the Greater Spokane League MVP last year as a junior – something she didn’t expect.
“I was kind of surprised by that, honestly,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the chance that I’ve had at LC. The GSL is a great program and it kind of sucks it’s over, but I try not to be sad about it.”
Pester, who signed with Manhattanville College in Harrison, New York, averaged nearly two strikeouts per inning last season.
“She carried the load for us,” Neff said, adding the weather-shortened preseason last year didn’t allow his hitters the chance to get into a good groove.
“We had really good defense last year behind (Pester). All we needed was to put the ball in play and score some runs for her,” he said.
“I have no doubt that we would have gotten to state this year,” Pester said. “We’re the exact same team as we were last year, and we just grew off of that, and we were honestly the strongest we’ve been in years.”
More than just the wins and losses, Neff misses being around his team.
“Just a great group of girls, I just love working with them,” he said. “We finally come to that culminating event where we’re all going to come together and play as one big team and then, you know, it just doesn’t happen for us.”
Pester loves how close the diverse group of girls is.
“I don’t think it would be expected, like in school, just with how different we are,” she said. “But on the field, we’re all very similar and we love to be around each other, which is very surprising for a girl group, for sure.”
In the recent past, the league title has gone through Central Valley, University or Mt. Spokane more often than not. LC thought it was its time.
“We had the confidence to beat anybody,” Neff said. “There’s kind of this mindset that, ‘Aw, we’re going to lose to U-Hi,’ or, ‘Aw, we’re going to lose to CV or Mt. Spokane.’ But these girls knew that they could beat anybody.”
Comeback curtailed: LC catcher Tyler Hilsendeger is a “baseball-is-life kid,” according to his coach. He hoped to use his senior season to attract college baseball scouts.
Hilsendeger came back from elbow reconstruction, which caused him to miss his entire sophomore season, to reclaim a starting position last year. But two-thirds of the way into his junior season, he broke a finger and had to sit again. Now, his senior campaign is washed out before it began.
“I just felt like, there’s a lot that I was missing out on, mostly because I missed my sophomore year, too,” Hilsendeger said. “I only really got one season of high school baseball, so I felt like there’s a lot left on the table. And that’s pretty disappointing.”
“Tyler is a kid who should have been a three-year starter for us,” coach Steve Bennett said, “But he ended up playing about 15 varsity games in his career.”
Hilsendeger “has the desire and ability to play college baseball,” Bennett said, but injuries and the pandemic have hurt his chances of recruitment.
“I still have my summer season, hopefully,” Hilsendeger said. “So I’m still pursuing the option of college baseball.”
A good student, Hilsendeger has already completed his admission to Washington State and will follow in the footsteps of his “Cougar family” if the dream of a baseball offer doesn’t come this summer.
Lewis and Clark senior roll call
Baseball: Jaxon Morris, Jacob Sepinuck, Tyler Hilsendeger, Conner Martin, Kolby Fairchild, Mason Rose.
Softball: Chloe Olson, Tehya Boehm, Gwyn Knight, Bailey Babin, Sarah Moline, Jasmine Ereaux, Jaimie Roller, Peyten Johnson, Kiara Julagay, Kylie Pester.
Boys soccer: Eli Armstrong, Trystan Brown, Eli Holden, Gavin Juviler, Miles Mitchell, Callen Neff, Tommy Ray, Zach Somers, David Tanchin.
Boys golf: Joshua Eckert, John Farley, Ben Stone.
Girls golf: Becca Fox, Emma Guin, Darby Rickel.
Boys tennis: Luke Bumpus, Coulter Cloninger, Max Ellingsen, Josh Hechtman, Nick Jeske, Wyatt Swaim, Ethan Warring, Spencer Young.
Girls tennis: Madelyn Dibble, Claire Murphy, Nicole Resanovic, Abby Ward, Lauren Wood.
Boys track and field: David Adewale, Jehu Allen, Matt Barker, Josh Bewick, Grant Daniel, Noah Davis, Keani Guthmueller, Cade Gwynn, Jake Hallesy, Mohamed Haroun, Ted Jackson, Josiah Jennings, Joseph Kjeldgaard, Jasper Larue, Benjamin Louie, Joshua Love, Danny Maxwell, James McGivern, Curran Middleton, Owen Middleton, Kian Miller, Malachi Moore, Ethan Mueller, Jordan Munir, Patrick North, Bennett Nye, Sebastian Orton, Wil Smith, Cody Spacek, Joseph Trefry, Alonzo Williams.
Girls track and field: Lindsay Butler, Jordyn Dashiell, Gabi Davis, Chloe Dougherty, Alicia Edgar, Lavinia Greer, Rebecca Harper, Sarah Humphreys, Halka Inagaki, Samiah Kuntz, Shellie Meier, Micaela Murphy, Tate Nelson, Ysabella Panzeri, Jill Plott, Sophie Rast, Elizabeth Rihani Lopez, Beatriz Santos, Bailey VanderWilde, Chloe Wiley, Kelsey Williams.
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