‘Once-in-a-lifetime team’ looks back at Riverton’s sensational softball seasonJun 13, 2022 01:33PM ● By Travis Barton
Jolie Mayfield and her team celebrates her three-run homer.
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but it’s a good place to start.
The Riverton girls softball team completed perhaps one of the most complete seasons in state history as the Silverwolves went 28-1 en route to a second-consecutive 6A state championship.
The Silverwolves had a +280 run differential, finishing with 301 runs and only allowing 21 all year.
They recorded 323 hits.
They had 75 stolen bases.
They knocked in 48 home runs, 19 of those bangers came off the bat of junior Jolie Mayfield.
The team hit .424, with all nine starters banking at least 20 hits and its lowest batting average by a hitter was .333. Even the team’s “weakest” batter averaged a hit every third at-bat.
Of the team’s 29 games, 18 were run-ruled (where the game ends early if you’re up 10 runs).
Starting pitcher Kaysen Korth had the fifth-best earned run average in state history at 0.55.
Her defense behind her kept a fielding percentage of 96% with only nine errors the entire season.
And the Silverwolves reached a No. 4 national ranking in USA Today Sports/NFCA High School rankings.
“It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime team, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said senior Chloe Woods.
‘You could tell they were unique from day one for sure’
Entering the year, the Silverwolves were coming off a special 2021 where the team went 24-1 to snare the program’s second-ever state title. The team graduated star Chloe Borges along with three other seniors, but the bulk of the team was returning for 2022.
Many of the girls also already played together on travel ball teams so it didn’t take long for the team to gel. After splitting time with Borges last year, Weber State commit Korth returned to the mound as the team’s primary pitcher to ensure a major piece of the puzzle was in place.
The team even had three returning sophomores in the starting lineup who saw lots of game time a year ago in Kyli Carrell, Tessa Hogue and Lilly Heitz.
While expectations were high for the returning champs, players wanted to keep it loose and focus on the present.
“We were mainly just excited,” said senior and third-baseman Lexi Shaver. “We wanted to take it slow, day by day, we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Our first goal was to win region, we didn’t want to think about state until we won region.”
Before even hitting region play, the Silverwolves won their first eight games by a combined score of 74-1. It was perhaps challenging to not get too excited about the squad's potential.
“I kept having to stop myself and live in the moment, because I knew something like this wasn't ever going to come again,” Woods said. “It's just such a special group of girls including the coaching staff, our fans, every part of it.”
With every game that passed, Korth knew it was a special year, highlighting an early game against Spanish Fork, one of the state’s softball blue bloods and 5A state champs. The Silverwolves lost to the Dons a year ago for the team’s only loss, but returned the favor this season with a 6-0 road win that for Korth showed her “how much we’ve improved.”
Head coach Katelyn Elliott, who now has three state titles in eight seasons at Riverton, said it wasn’t just the talent that was special, it was the attitude, the little things. Such as varsity sticking around to cheer on the JV team.
“They were special, you could tell they were unique from day one for sure,” she said.
‘Every day bringing that level of intensity we brought is not easy’
Riverton softball is very process oriented. Driven by Elliott, the team strives to be students of the game, controlling what they can and finding ways to learn especially in moments of failure; whether that’s a missed swing or a fielding error.
By so doing the Silverwolves were relentless, especially offensively. Several games could feel like the team was pushing against a dam and once it broke, the runs would pour in. Whether it was first game against Herriman, where five runs in the fifth clinched the win, or the semis against Fremont where seven runs between the fourth and fifth innings ended the game early.
“Even though we made it look easy, it’s not easy,” Elliott said. “Those girls went day in day out relentless and determined at getting better and mentally staying dialed in.”
It could be a practice all about the outfield, which was followed up the next day with Woods making a diving catch in right field against Bingham and then later reinforced in the state title game when Kylee Ruesch fielded and fired a ball from left field to hold the runner at third.
Or it could be practice on the mental side, working on controlling your emotions to stay focused and react more productively to a mistake, such as an infielder makes a throwing error that leads to a baserunner, the instant reaction is to start talking about a double play.
On top of practices most days with two games a week, softball also runs during fourth quarter finals “which is a stressful time in school,” Elliott said.
Then add on top of that being nationally ranked with a target on their back getting every team’s best game.
“Every day bringing that level of intensity we brought is not easy,” Elliott said.
‘We just wanted all of us to have a say’
That attacking mindset was just one part of the process. Team chemistry was another.
Woods said the team worked on “plugging in” to a teammate each game, someone specific they could cheer on.
Shaver noted some of her best friends are sophomores on the team with the whole group often hanging out outside of softball.
Senior Brynn O’Reilly pointed to a lack of drama, a common goal and a passion for the sport as crucial factors that created “this amazing chemistry.”
But all of them noted the lack of seniority in the team with no team captains and no freshmen being responsible for equipment. Things that could divide a team, Woods said.
While the squad had leadership aplenty, the seniors focused on keeping everyone equal.
“We just wanted all of us to have a say,” Shaver said while Woods added, “It worked out in our favor.”
‘They just kept on pushing until they finally saw the success’
The already talented team also found ways to improve throughout the season. With Mayfield, perhaps the Jocelyn Alo of Utah softball, hitting cleanup and leading the team with an almost .600 batting average—the junior also has 32 career home runs, six shy of the state record, and that’s with a COVID-shortened freshman season—Elliott knew teams would try to pitch around her.
So, she focused on having a lineup that could hit from top to bottom, one through nine.
“The bottom of our lineup was phenomenal,” she said.
Two players in particular saw their swings improve as the season progressed in juniors Ruesch and Mariyah Delgado. Elliott highlighted Ruesch as the “most improved hitter of the year.”
Ruesch struggled at the beginning of the year and, with the help of her coaches, retooled her swing, to the point where she knocked in a three-run homer in the semis against Fremont.
“It was really cool to see them not just get frustrated with hitting that they just gave up,” Korth said of her teammates. “But instead they just kept on pushing until they finally saw the success.”
‘I don’t think failure should be something you fear’
In a year where the Silverwolves won 28 of their possible 29 games, took the Region 3 title with an 11-1 record and lifted the championship trophy, it’s hard not to wonder what happened in that one game. The one that kept them from an undefeated season.
To open the region campaign, Riverton took down Mountain Ridge on the road with a 10-1 victory that saw three different hitters go yard and second-baseman Heitz smack three doubles.
But in the second matchup, the Sentinels scored two runs in the seventh to win 2-1.
“Everyone is going to give us their best game,” Elliott said.
Mountain Ridge’s game included pitching slow and outside to throw off Riverton’s rhythm, and it worked.
“We wanted to get on so badly that we just started chasing balls and we weren’t really swinging at the best pitches,” Shaver said. “That game really taught us to stay patiently aggressive at the plate.”
So the next several practices focused on hitting off-speed pitches in the outside zone, anticipating more opposing pitchers to use that formula.
An undefeated season would’ve been great, Korth said, but that game played a role in the rest of the season.
“Looking back at it, I wouldn’t trade it for the world just because we learned so much,” she said.
The reaction to the loss speaks to a guiding principle for Elliott and her program: failure is a learning opportunity. Just as she wants her hitters to learn from a strikeout for their next at-bat, the same applies to a loss for their next game.
“Sometimes getting beat is one of the best things that can happen to you,” she said.
In the ensuing 15 games, the Silverwolves only scored less than 10 runs twice.
“It’s huge on my team to respond in that way, to get better from that loss and learn from it,” Elliott said. “I don’t think failure should be something you fear.”
‘It was one of those things you see in the movies’
Riverton entered the playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the 6A tournament, needing to win at least seven games in just over a week to clinch another state championship. The Silverwolves had played three of the other top five seeds six times in the regular season, going 5-1.
They swept Herriman in the super regional before dispatching a pair of northern teams in Weber and Fremont (twice) to reach the title game, outscoring their opponents 53-0 in the process.
The state title series against West, played at BYU’s Miller Field, saw the Silverwolves jump on the Panthers early with an 11-run second inning in Game 1 en route to a 14-0 victory, featuring big hits from Heitz, Woods and Korth.
Game 2 saw the Silverwolves allow a run for the first time all tournament, but still showcased a dominant performance from Korth as the Silverwolves won 11-1.
Korth finished with 10 strikeouts despite dealing with a blood blister for the final game.
The senior normally pitches games quite frequently, but in high school where there are typically only two games in a week, her callus went soft. Transitioning back to pitching every day in the state tournament saw a cut form during the semifinal and her needing to glue it to stop the bleeding.
The first game of the championship series it started to feel like a bruise, Korth said, before she woke up the day of Game 2 with the blood blister where it then burst open during the first inning.
You wouldn’t know it from watching her, but she said it affected her rise ball, her best pitch. Combine that with the glue rubbing off from the stitching on the ball and her sweating so it doesn’t dry fast.
“It was kind of like the worst scenario for it,” she said.
But true to form, Korth said it was a learning experience, trusting both in her other pitches as well as her defense behind her.
“They’re great behind me so I just kind of need to relax a little bit and let them do their job,” she said.
Elliott said they had a conversation about possibly taking her out, pitchers were warming up in the bullpen just in case, but there was no way Korth was coming out.
“This is something she’s prepared for her whole life and she would chop her finger off if she had to, she was pitching that game,” Elliott said.
Despite the issues, the future Weber State pitcher only allowed four hits and one run across six innings.
The final inning saw a three-run homer from Mayfield to make it 10-1, before the bases loaded up for Woods to single to right field in what would be her final at-bat.
“My biggest focus was just ‘I gotta move the runner,’” Woods said of her thoughts at the plate. She rounded first, turned around and saw her team running for her.
“It brought me to tears,” she said.
Shaver said Woods had to hit the walk-off. “I was so happy, it made it so much more special that it was Chloe that was able to do it.”
Elliott won a state title as a player with Spanish Fork, but said both after the game and later that winning as a coach is “way better.” Seeing the girls apply what the coaches taught them, then feel so much joy themselves is “the most rewarding feeling in the world,” she added.
After the trophy presentation, the team and fans broke into an MVP chant for Korth, bringing the normally stoic senior to tears.
“It was definitely surreal,” she said of the moment. “I felt like it was one of those things that you see in the movies.”
The game also saw Riverton players wearing green and blue ribbons in their hair for fallen peers. Green for Riverton student Taegan Brown who died in May, and blue for a fellow softball player from Cache County who also died.
‘That opened my eyes a little bit’
This year’s squad featured four seniors, Korth, Shaver, Woods and O’Reilly, all of whom played pivotal parts.
Korth, who plans to study exercise science and wants to be a college pitching coach, is everything Elliott wants in a Riverton softball player. Not just because of her talent and leadership, but Korth’s insatiable desire to soak up information in order to improve.
The pitcher said her fear of plateauing prevents her from “even taking a week break. I can never do that I’m just so scared I’m going to lose all my pitches somehow.”
But Korth is quick to credit Delgado, her first catcher when they started at age 8. That connection carried over the past decade, including the last three at Riverton.
While most teams have wristbands and the coach calls pitches from the dugout, due to the already established bond and softball IQ between the two, Riverton does not. Elliott lets Korth and Delgado call the game.
Elliott noted Delgado reads the game so well knowing how to adjust based on the batter’s stance or how the umpire is calling the game. To the point where she’ll go tell the leadoff hitter what strike zone is being called and what pitches to avoid.
“To have high school kids pick up that next level stuff is pretty cool,” she said.
Korth and Delgado’s connection runs so deep that sometimes they only use one number for the type of pitch based on the situation.
“She’ll usually give me the sign and I already have the grip for it,” Korth said. “She’s like a sister to me, so it’s really, really nice to have her there.”
Shaver, who plans on being a labor and delivery nurse, had a bounce back year, she said, as her offensive production featured eight home runs and a .481 batting average. Elliott calls her a “vacuum” at third base with her defense and said she had a “phenomenal year at the plate.”
Shaver, along with Woods, will be playing softball next year at SLCC before hopefully transferring somewhere out of state.
Woods who plans to go into the medical field for either nursing or physical therapy, had the walk-off hit and solid production from the 9-spot in the lineup as well as steady defense in right field.
Elliott said her hitting “peaked right at the end” of the year.
The secret sauce of the season might be O’Reilly.
“Probably one of our most inspirational players,” Elliott said. “She is the glue that holds us all together.”
The senior started at second her first two years in the program before a torn labrum ended up sidelining her the last two years.
Despite not being able to throw or hit, she could pinch run, so O’Reilly came to every practice working on her baserunning.
“A big thing we focused on was controlling the controllables and so that’s something I really tried to focus on was making the best of the situation and doing my part, because everyone has a part to play on the team,” O’Reilly said. “So I focused on supporting my team and doing all that I could, despite it looking a little different from everybody else.”
Luckily baserunning is one of her favorite parts of the game. “It was really, really fun.”
Being forced to watch from the dugout also afforded O’Reilly, who plans to study exercise science at BYU and be a physician’s assistant in orthopedics, a unique perspective.
“Years down the road, people aren’t going to remember the plays you had or your batting average or how many errors you had, but they’re going to remember who you were as a person and how you made them feel,” she said. “They’re going to remember the work you put in. That was something that opened my eyes a little bit. That it’s OK I wasn’t playing. What’s most important is you’re uplifting others and you’re becoming better yourself.”
‘It just doesn’t feel real’
Whether it was playing backwards softball (throw and hit left handed), the final hugs or simply winning the state championship, there were hundreds of moments the coaches and players will remember from this season.
But the dominance of this special season is still settling on everyone involved.
Elliott was filling out forms for the UHSAA for records they’ve broken in early June. Going through the numbers of Mayfield’s RBIs and home runs or Korth’s strikeouts or team stolen bases, Elliott said it started to dawn on her.
“Reflecting on that it’s like holy cow, I knew we had something special, but then you really see it, all the records that you’re breaking,” she said.
Woods imagines the program will do nothing but grow, mostly because of the person at the helm, coach Elliott.
“I’d do another four years with her if I could, she’s an amazing coach.”
Korth credits Elliott with the team’s relentless mentality this season.
“I love my coaches more than anything and knowing I’m never going to be able to play for them again, kind of hurts,” she said.
“I just feel really thankful,” Korth said, spreading the gratitude around to her teammates, coaches and family. “I couldn’t have really dreamed of a better senior season. It just doesn’t feel real…I feel such a love for Riverton High softball.”
Tessa Hogue is recognized by her Bingham counterpart after aggressive base running found her safe at second.
Head coach Katelyn Elliott gets what’s left of the water from the cooler after the players went after assistant coach Whitney Holm. Elliott was doused last year and the players went for Holm this time.