Nothing about this season was normal for the Shadle Park fastpitch softball team.
For the third consecutive year, the softball season was truncated or almost completely wiped out by inclement weather (2019) or the coronavirus pandemic (2020 and 2021).
A major realignment in area high school sports before the start of the school year expanded the Greater Spokane League to 16 teams and saw the Highlanders drop from the ranks of the 3A classification to 2A, alongside newcomers Clarkston, East Valley, Othello, Pullman and West Valley as well as GSL mainstays North Central and Rogers.
This season’s unique start date (April 5, the first day of spring break) also led to four starters – including junior Chloe Flerchinger, a second-team all-league selection as a freshman in 2019 – missing the first week of practices and, subsequently, the season-opening doubleheader against North Central.
Despite the unusual circumstances, however, the Highlanders managed to complete their 2021 campaign with just one blemish – which was avenged Tuesday night – culminating with a win over Othello and an East Region championship.
Throughout the unconventional season, Flerchinger and freshman Crimson Rice provided coach Scott Kine’s team consistency inside the pitcher’s circle and the batter’s box, as well as leadership – both vocal and by example – throughout the season.
The two won five games apiece in the regular season – tied for second most in the GSL – and ranked 1-2 in RBIs with 26 (Rice) and 23.
Flerchinger led the league with 55 strikeouts and a 1.04 ERA while Rice hit a league-high four home runs, finished third with a 1.42 ERA and fanned 51 batters, fifth most in the GSL.
“Both of them can play multiple positions,” Kine said.
“They both have personal trainers. They both spend the time and effort that it’s going to take to be a Division I athlete. They’ve both embraced that. Some kids run for the bleachers.”
The Highlanders (12-1) won their first nine games by a combined scored of 150-6 before dropping the first game of a doubleheader against Othello 8-4 on May 5, the final day of the regular season. Shadle committed four errors and Rice, who hit .568 (fourth in the GSL) this season, ultimately took the loss.
Flerchinger had 11 strikeouts and allowed just five hits to help the Highlanders earn the split with a 9-4 win in the second game and the teams went into the league’s culminating event with a matching 10-1 records.
Rice allowed three hits with 11 strikeouts, and Flerchinger hit a homer, in a 9-1 win over Clarkston on Saturday that, coupled with Othello’s 16-6 win over West Valley, set up a rubber match between Shadle and the Huskies in Tuesday’s championship game.
“Nothing rattles her,” Flerchinger said of Rice.
“Her off-speed pitch is deadly.”
It was, however, the pair’s elder that was unflappable in the title game.
Flerchinger struck out six batters in a complete-game shutout and hit a solo shot in the bottom of the second as the Highlanders beat Othello 1-0.
While talented players like Rice and Flerchinger played a significant role in Shadle Park’s success this season, the Highlanders also quickly developed a strong chemistry in the dugout that helped them persevere.
Rice hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and had 11 strikeouts during a one-hit shutout in their season-opening game, and then struck out 10 batters in 4⅔ innings in the second as shorthanded Shadle Park swept its season-opening doubleheader.
“We all just kind of learned quickly and meshed,” Rice said. “Game-time situations kind of create these bonds because you’ve gone through battles together so after our first couple games we all just got really comfortable and supported one another.”
Those connections, combined with workmanlike efforts and, of course, rare athletic ability carried the Highlanders to the top of the GSL 2A in 2021 and set up Shadle Park to potentially ascend to the top of the state in the future.
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