WELLS – Most programs would consider a state runner-up finish a successful softball season, especially three in a row.
The Wells Lady Leopards are tired of being the bridesmaids and not the brides.
Each of the last three Division 1A softball seasons have ended in identical fashion; Wells taking second – Pahranagat Valley holding the state trophy.
Coach Shane DelRio said entering the 2018 season that his team’s biggest strength is the attitude of his girls.
“They’re hungry. They have lost to Alamo the last three years, and they just lost to them again in basketball in the state championship,” DelRio said. “They’re foaming at the mouth. They’re tired of losing that last game. Practices have been intense; they’re bringing high energy and providing a lot of positive feedback and respect for each other. They know this has to be their year.”
Mental fortitude and a winning attitude are things that can send Wells over the top, but the Lady Leopards will have to do the work without graduated Katlyn DelRio.
KD served as the mainstay for the Wells pitching staff throughout her high school career, winning another Pitcher of the Year award last season.
She led Wells with 82-1/3 innings pitched and struck out 121 batters, walking just 31 for the entire season.
Her 1.36 earned-run average was also the lowest on the roster and led the league, leading the Lady Leopards with a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) of 1.045.
Defensively, DelRio led the Lady Leopards with 39 assists – playing at third base in games she did not pitch.
She did not just shut down opposing hitters; she also raked with her bat off of opposing pitchers.
DelRio led Wells with 55 hits and 50 RBIs, finishing the season with a .495 batting average, 13 doubles, four triples (tied for the team high) and a home run.
Her lone home run of the season came on DelRio’s final swing of her high school career, smacking a two-run, no-doubter over the fence in left-center field in the state championship against Pahranagat Valley at Durango High School in Las Vegas.
She scored the final run of career and wound up with 46 for the season.
The Lady Leopards were a who’s who of the 1st-Team All-League selections of the Division 1A Northern-East, also sending off shortstop Holly Seech and left fielder Leslie Aguilar.
In her final season of wearing the black and orange, Seech finished third on the Wells roster with 31 defensive assists and added 21 putouts.
Seech hit .382 for the year but found a big jump to a .591 on-base percentage, thanks in large part to tying for the team lead with 31 walks.
She finished with five doubles, two triples and 18 RBIs.
Seech crossed home plate a total of 59 times, finishing second on the team in runs scored.
Aguilar, along with DelRio and Seech, nearly went out on top in Wells uniforms – falling in the state championship for the third straight season.
Playing outfield, Aguilar recorded 11 putouts and committed just two errors on the season.
She hit .267 with three doubles and three triples, driving in 21 runs and drawing 20 walks (third best on the team).
While the loss of DelRio looms huge and leaves a question mark on the upcoming season, one thing is certain – the Lady Leopards still have the league MVP.
Senior Keegan Laughlin brings back her bat, her glove, her arm and her lengthy, athletic frame for another run at a state title.
No Wells player hit the ball with more consistency or power than Laughlin last season.
She led the Lady Leopards with a .539 batting average, also topping the team with three home runs.
Her stat line included an on-base percentage of .675, slugging percentage of .910 and an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.585 – leading the team in every category.
She consistently had quality at-bats, tying for the team lead with 31 walks.
Although Laughlin is a tall player, she runs like the wind, legging out 16 doubles and four triples – tying for the team high in each category, also using her speed to steal bases – often rounding first and taking second after drawing walks.
Laughlin’s ability to motor led to her scoring a team-high 64 runs.
Defensively, she is a magnet at first base and her length allows her to make incredible stretches on balls away from the bag – finishing second on the team with a .965 fielding percentage.
She also ranked second on the team in putouts with 155, closing in fifth with 12 assists.
After a 1st-Team All-League selection as a junior, Samantha Shamblin is back for her senior year.
Although she served a vital role in Wells’ pitching rotation before, coach DelRio said “she has taken over the circle for us.”
He hopes to keep her healthy, noting she has “picked up some different pitches” they hope to work on throughout the season and “master by regionals and state.”
She put in 72-2/3 innings of work on the mound last season, posting a 2.408 ERA.
Shamblin struck out 96 batters and walked 21, fanning nearly five times as many hitters as giving up free passes.
Offensively, she became reliable with her bat – finishing with a .421 batting average, 13 doubles, four triples and a homer – driving in 34 runs and scoring 46 times.
She made 32 assists defensively, ranking second behind DelRio.
In her first season of playing catcher, Laila Jackson shined behind the plate as a sophomore.
She entered the season with some big shoes to fill, attempting to replace former league MVP and perennial 1st-Team performer Hailey Swan.
Jackson not only filled the void nicely, she performed at a 1st-Team All-League level.
She led the team with a .983 fielding percentage and notched a team-best 166 putouts, committing just three errors all season.
For the season, she hit .417 with seven doubles, two triples and 27 RBIs.
During her junior season, DelRio said Jackson might double from catching pitches to delivering them – saying she has “done a little work throwing.”
Second baseman Ady Prado provided defensive production for the Lady Leopards as a junior.
She finished fourth on the squad with 29 assists, adding 33 putouts.
Offensively, she hit for average at .404 and managed to power a number of shots that resulted in extra bases.
She tied Laughlin for the team high with 16 doubles and added a triple, finishing with 34 RBIs.
Along with the league MVP in Laughlin and three other 1st-Team players back on the roster, the Lady Leopards will also return three 2nd-Team All-League athletes.
Lacye Pearson continued her growth as a ballplayer across the board as a junior – fielding, hitting and catching.
Playing the majority of her defense in the outfield, Pearson finished third on the team with a .931 fielding percentage, recording 49 put outs – also third best for the roster.
Due to an illness to Jackson, Pearson caught the first of two state titles games against Pahranagat Valley and did a commendable job.
She made the Wells offense tic as well – finishing second to DelRio with 44 RBIs.
Pearson’s .442 batting average was third for the Lady Leopards, as were her .557 on-base percentage, .657 slugging percentage and 1.232 OPS.
She wacked nine doubles and three triples – ranking fifth and fourth – respectively.
She scored 45 runs on the season, finishing fifth on Wells’ juggernaut offense.
Pearson will make the move from right field to third base this year – especially when Shamblin is on the mound – and DelRio has seen the result of her efforts.
“She’s looking solid over at third, and she’s really hungry for her senior season,” he said.
Julianne Wright wasted little time making an impact on the 1A varsity softball scene, earning a 2nd-Team All-League nod as a freshman.
She hit .410 with four doubles and drove in 21 runs, scoring 33 runs of her own.
With the departure of DelRio and an offseason of work, Wright will also move into Wells’ pitching rotation.
She will spend the bulk of her defensive time in left and center field when not tossing from the mound.
Berenice Aboite – better known as Betty – was limited in her sophomore year due to an arm injury she suffered while practicing mixed martial arts, yes – she’s tough.
The injury limited her range of extension when fielding fly balls, but she still possesses notable athleticism and covers lots of range in center field and will see time on left field this season.
Her speed is a dangerous weapon on the bases and she will factor largely into Wells’ postseason and state championship hopes, likely to do a lot of dragging and slap bunting.
The Lady Leopards will also benefit from the resurgence of senior Kendra Franco, who did not play softball last season.
Coach DelRio will have Franco play at shortstop to replace Seech.
Despite the lack of softball over the past season, Franco has wheels – something DelRio plans to use to Wells’ benefit.
“She can help us out a lot if we get her on-base with her speed. We have been working with her on her short-game,” he said. “I think she will do a lot of dragging and slap bunting.”
The biggest question mark for the Lady Leopards defensively is in right field, a task that is handed to a group of four sophomores.
“I’m not sure who we will have in right field regularly yet. We have not even seen a field and our only practice was indoors,” said coach DelRio. “We will try four sophomores: Lauren Steele, Jackie Berumen, Jenny Aguilar and Mackenzie Sethman.”
Coach DelRio said the areas his team has to improve the most in overcoming the hump for a state championship are “at the plate” and “being mentally tough.”
“We have to improve how we hit against slow pitchers. We hit fast pitchers pretty well, but for some reason – we struggle to wait on the ball against slow ones. We get too excited and just kind of panic,” he said. “The other things we have to do are put bad plays behind us and focus on the next play. We can’t hang our heads and think about the past. We have to understand there are going to be tough times and we have to be mentally tough in those situations.”
The Lady Leopards will get their first taste of competition against Elko at 2 p.m. Thursday during the Virgin Valley Tournament in Mesquite.