By Pat Caldwell
VALE – During key stretches of the 2016 season, the Vale High School softball team showcased a high-octane offense that could roll over opposing teams.
Rapid explosions of offense coupled with a hustling defense created opportunities for the Vikings that they parleyed into a 19-9 winning record. The success revolved around speed, and the Vikings exhibited that quickness on a routine basis.
“Speed is huge in softball. When you look at the situations where we rolled off a lot of runs, it was because we got going on the bases, putting pressure on the defense,” said Vale head softball coach Kelly Johnson. Yet there were moments when unpredictability hampered what seemed a well-oiled machine.
As the Vikings fell in the first round of the OSAA playoffs last month, Johnson recognized that inconsistency, and made plans to address it next year.
“Inconsistency. With fielding, we made some terrific plays and then (there would be) something routine and we didn’t make the play. Inconsistent fielding and inconsistent hitting,” he said about the 2016 season.
If Johnson sounds a bit wistful about the end, he has good reason. He made no excuses for the key playoff loss and said it was particularly poignant because of the Vikings’ potential.
“I don’t think we ever peaked,” he said, and then paused to consider. “We definitely didn’t peak.”
With the 2016 season now but a memory, Johnson sees a bright future for the Vikings.
“I am excited about next year,” he said. “We’ve got a ton of talent coming back and a great incoming class.”
The Vikings lose only two starters to graduation – pitcher Kelsey Hawley and left-fielder Kelsy Weber – who demonstrated the capacity to rip apart defenses.
Two key players returning, Johnson said, are senior outfielder Lexi Mulvany and senior shortstop Hannah Mizuta. Mulvany finished the season with a .616 on base average while Mizuta hit six homeruns during the season and drove in 27 RBIs. Behind those two, Johnson said, is a well-disciplined, veteran group that can win a lot of games.
“All the ingredients are there,” he said. Johnson also said the final game of the season – the 8-7 loss to Cascade Christian – may be all of the inspiration his squad will need.
“I am sure they are hungry,” he said.
After the loss to Cascade Christian, Johnson said he reminded his team to remember the pain of the defeat and use it as a foundation for the 2017 season.
“I told them to look at the scoreboard and let it fuel you for next year. Remember, I told them, the feeling,” he said.