ELKO – The Elko girls softball team is saddled with experience and inexperience.
The Lady Indians return a tested nucleus offensively and on defense, but the defense is also supplied with the task of playing stellar ball behind a young pitching crew.
Eight of Elko’s 13 players have seen significant action at the varsity level, but the Lady Indians welcome five players for their first full seasons of varsity softball – relying on two newbies at a crucial position.
Joining the varsity midway through her freshman season, sophomore Madi Murray has been handed the ball and expected to pack the Lady Indians on the mound – paired with sophomore Breanna Whitted on the hill.
“Madi and Breanna have been putting in lots of time and are starting to see much improvement and growth,” said Elko coach Karen Hoem. “Our strengths should be our experience, bringing back the bulk of our lineup and our defense. I feel this is what we will have to rely on to get some Ws.”
While the Lady Indians return the majority of their major contributors, Elko also has some large voids to fill – namely graduated Madi Harris at third base.
Harris was named a 1st-Team All-League selection and gained a 2nd-Team All-State bid as an infielder.
Traditionally a third baseman since her junior season, Harris split time between third base and shortstop.
Harris ended the season by leading the Lady Indians by a large margin in batting average at .398, also coming up with a team-best 27 hits.
She smacked a team-high 10 doubles, drove in 17 runs (second on the roster) and drilled one home run (third best on the team).
Harris scored 18 runs on the year, which ranked fourth for the Lady Indians.
Her improvement in the late portion of the year was evident in the final regular season series against Spring Creek, finishing with seven RBIs in the three contests – driving in three runs in two of the games.
The lone home run of the season on Harris’ stat line came on April 21 on the road at Truckee.
She tied for the team high with a .453 on-base percentage, ranking second in slugging (.588) and on-base plus slugging (1.041).
Harris stole five bases, ranking third for the Lady Indians.
Defensively, she finished second on the team with 77 putouts – recording nine on April 8 in Truckee.
Harris tied for the team high with 15 assists.
Elko’s now-sophomore pitchers were given a front-row view of how to be a workhorse on the mound by graduated pitcher Brandy Kufeld.
Kufeld set single-season school records with 123-1/3 innings pitched, firing an absurd 2,046 pitches in a two-month span.
She not only gave the Lady Indians crazy quantities of usage, she also provided quality outings and pitches.
Kufeld set another season record for Elko with 90 strikeouts, finishing third in the league.
She tied for third in the 3A North with 11 wins, finishing the season with a 5.34 earned run average.
In 11 of her appearances on the mound, Kufeld allowed two earned runs or less.
She struck out a season-high nine batters on May 1 against Spring Creek, recording seven punchouts on four other occasions.
During her sophomore season, now-junior Kaitlyn Rizo led the Lady Indians in power thumps.
She drove four home runs over the left-field fences, topping the roster with 12 extra-base hits – adding seven doubles and a triple.
Rizo led Elko with 21 RBIs – tying for the team high with 23 runs scored – and finished second on the team with a .338 batting average and 26 hits.
Rizo tied Harris with a team-best .453 on-base percentage, leading the squad outright in slugging (.610) and OPS at 1.063.
She has a cannon for an arm, showing off uncanny throwing ability.
Rizo’s arm also serves her well for throwing down baserunners on attempted steals when she’s behind the plate with the mask on her face.
Her 99 putouts led the team, adding six assists.
“Rizo will also see lots and lots of time behind the dish. She has worked on her arm strength a little and we are hoping to get her strong bat a little more consistent,” Hoem said.
The Lady Indians will benefit greatly from another junior’s bat, courtesy of Jacqueline Pete, who will play shortstop.
“Jacqueline is without a doubt the best player we have coming back,” Hoem said. “She worked really hard in the offseason to refine some of her skills.”
As a sophomore, Pete tied Rizo for the team lead with 23 runs scored – finishing second on the roster with two home runs – tying for the team high with a triple.
She closed the year in third place with 16 RBIs, finishing fourth with 22 hits.
Lauryn Guenin’s sophomore season would have been graded by a teacher as incomplete.
She showed remarkable growth after her first year on varsity as a freshman, beginning the 2017 season with great results.
Unfortunately, Guenin suffered an injury when she collided with a teammate on April 22 in Truckee on a fly ball in shallow-center field.
For the season, Guenin hit .333 and drove in 10 runs, which ranked seventh on the team, but she competed in 10 fewer games than most of the other girls.
She tied for fourth on the team with four doubles, finishing fifth with 19 hits.
Guenin scored 12 runs for the year.
She stole three bases, tying for fourth on the team.
“Lauryn will continue to be our center fielder. She suffered the injury last year, which set her back, but overall – she looks good,” Hoem said.
Hoem is hoping sophomore Caresse Basaraba will be force in the outfield, saying she has “speed and a good arm.”
Basaraba finished third in runs scored for the Lady Indians as a freshman with 19, using her legs to tie for the team high with six steals.
Elko brings back two seniors, shortstop Mollie Gallagher and Riley Harris to replace Madi Harris at third base.
Riley Harris hit five doubles and pounded a home run as a junior, Gallagher tying Basaraba for the team high with six stolen bases.
“Riley has some big shoes to fill at third base but we are confident she will do a good job,” Hoem said. “Mollie has been working on the opposite side of the plate and has improved greatly.”
Playing in the outfield as a sophomore, Elko brings back junior Alexis Elquist.
She hit .279 with two doubles last season.
“Elquist is coming off a very strong basketball season and once she gets back into softball mode, she will help us a ton in the outfield,” said Hoem.
The status and availability of junior first baseman Kenzie Ratliff is a question mark for the Lady Indians after undergoing shoulder surgery.
She tied Rizo for second on the team with a .338 batting average, finishing third on the roster with 23 hits as a sophomore.
Her 12 RBIs ranked fifth for Elko, and she cranked her only homer of the season in the Lady Indians’ final game of the year on May 12 against Lowry during the 3A North regional tournament in South Tahoe.
Along with Murray and Whitted, the Lady Indians also welcome sophomores Mary-Tessa Slater and Dariahn Primeaux up from the junior varsity.
“Mary-Tessa and Dariahn are making the transition from JV to Varsity but will be huge additions just based on their speed and athleticism,” Hoem said.
The Lady Indians will have one freshman on the varsity roster, Emery Lesbo.
“Emery eats, drinks and sleeps the sport,” said Hoem. “She will be a nice addition to our outfield and give Rizo a break.”
The Lady Indians let some games slip through their fingers last season, something Hoem knows cannot happen in 2018 if the Lady Indians want to climb in the league standings.
“We have to be way more consistent at the plate. We left too many runners on in crucial situations. We have to be able to execute offensively and give us some runs and put us in a position to win the games we lost last year,” she said. “We are in a strong league. The state champions have come from our division for the past seven years, maybe longer.”
The Lady Indians will open the season with a non-division matchup against defending Division 1A state runner-up Wells at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Virgin Valley Tournament in Mesquite.