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East softball team hopes to keep its foot on the gas through postseason

by | May 23, 2024 | Cover Story, Prep Spotlight, Softball

East’s Valley Wakefield keeps her eye on the ball. Photo by Signal Stone

If you’re trying to find an accolade that sums up the East T-birds softball team’s extraordinary 20-1 season, good luck choosing just one.

Take your pick from the team’s .463 batting average and .928 fielding percentage to seven different players batting over .450 and a 15-game winning streak, to name just a few of the stats that demonstrates its prowess both at bat and in the field.

The T-birds take on the Dimond Lynx tonight in the winner’s bracket of the Cook Inlet Conference tournament.

“Walking into this, I feel like we’ve had a lot of successes, and we’ve learned from the loss,” said East coach Virginia Griffith in a phone interview. “So I’m feeling pretty confident that these girls are going to show up ready to play, lace up, and watch the ball closely at the plate.”

East has a four-pitcher rotation, a depth more often seen at the collegiate level than in high school. Sophomore Sela Rodriguez has been lights out as the team’s top pitcher, with 107 strikeouts recorded in 50 innings pitched, a 0.70 ERA, and recently reaching a 60-mph personal best.

In a compact regular season barely reaching four weeks, having three other pitchers to choose from is an asset, said Griffith – especially when they all have strong secondary positions. Rodriguez also plays third and first bases, senior Isabella Lyons plays second base, junior Penina Tali plays third, and junior Ungildil Isidoro plays in the outfield.

Penina Tali applies the tag on a Bartlett baserunner. Photo by Signal Stone

“I’ve got such a strong and versatile team that no matter where I put them, I’ve got an athlete who is going to do her best in that role,” Griffith said, later adding, “It’s been a fun year to have the problems that I have of who’s going to pitch tonight or who’s going to play where, because it hasn’t been a weak spot, no matter where I put them.”

Meanwhile, the T-birds haven’t slacked at the plate either, scoring 10 or more runs in 12 of their 20 regular season games. With the team’s top .630 batting average, Tali has smashed 29 hits, with 28 RBIs and 27 runs. Along with her pitching prowess, Rodriguez also leads the team in home runs (7) and RBIs (33), and junior Aaliyah Villafuerte leads the team in runs (31) and hits (34).

After securing the state championship title in 2019, the T-birds have a trio of third place state finishes over the last three years courtesy of the Chugiak Mustangs and the South Anchorage Wolverines. Defending state champion Chugiak handed East the aforementioned sole loss of the year, holding the T-birds to just two hits to win 4-3.

CIC Tournament
At Albrecht Fields

East vs. Dimond
South vs. Chugiak
West vs. Bartlett
Service 7, Eagle River 0 (F)
Dimond 5, Service 3
South 13, West 0
Chugiak 17, Bartlett 2
East 7, Eagle River 0 (F)

“I think the girls were expecting to win and when we didn’t, it was disappointing, but they didn’t lay down,” said Griffith. “I think it taught them that they can rally as a team and they came back the next game against Dimond with strong bats and woke them up.”

There have been plenty of blowout wins for the T-birds this season, but Griffith said she values the opportunities for her team to compete in close games – like last Saturday’s 2-1 nailbiter against South, where Tali came up clutch in the final inning with two outs on the board, hitting a line drive to send two runners home and clinch the victory.

Griffith said despite the team’s success this year, they know “the work’s not done” as they head into postseason play.

“What we tell each other is gas pedal. Don’t let off the gas pedal, it’s not over till it’s over. If there’s a pitch left, the game’s not over,” she said. “I think for us, our biggest challenge is not letting off that gas pedal and continuing to crush the ball, and see the ball, and make those wise choices on the bases like we have all season.”

East players celebrate after scoring a run. Photo by Signal Stone

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