Rob Kiser kept it pretty simple.
Following back-to-back state championships, the Middleton softball coach had just one expectation, even if it was a little lofty.
“I told them immediately after tryouts, ‘you will win a state title this year. No ifs, ands or buts about it,’” Kiser said.
The message was received loud and clear.
The Vikings rose to the challenge set forth by their coach in a big way. They went 30-3, won the 4A Southern Idaho Conference championship for the second straight season, posted the state’s second longest winning streak at 20 games and more importantly claimed their third consecutive state championship.
For these accomplishments, the Middleton softball team is the 2017-18 Idaho Press’ Sports Stars Spring Girls Team of the Year.
“I knew they were going to a special from day one,” Kiser said. “But I still don’t have the words for three in a row. It seems almost impossible to me that it actually happened. This was something that so many people thought couldn’t be done. But we found a way and I couldn’t be more happier for this extremely resilient group of women who shined on the state’s biggest stage.”
Unlike in previous years, the Vikings were lacking a little in the experience department. While they returned members like senior Reylene Cortes, Eleonora Conley and three-time 4A Southern Idaho Conference Player of the Year, Lainey Lyle, Middleton’s lineup was still pretty new.
But that didn't sway Kiser's line of thinking.
He had other players step up like seniors Mariah Jenkins and Auzia Mosley. Jenkins had the second highest batting average on the team at. 430, while Mozley led the team in hits with 43.
With that type of production from its hitters and the pitching combo of Lyle and Cortes, who combined to go 29-3 with 264 strikeouts and a ERA of just 1.19, Middleton’s third go around at the title was arguably its most dominant.
The Vikings at one point racked up a 20-game winning streak which was just one game back of Eagle for the highest in the state this season and beat their opponents by an average of nearly six runs per game.
“It was really important for players like us to step up because had lost so much and in a way were starting over,” Mosley said. “I mean we really hadn’t had huge roles before this season other than running for other players on the team, but we were still told we were just as important as everybody else. So when it was our time, we were ready."
But the Vikings lost to Ridgevue 1-0 for a spot in the title game at the 4A State Tournament in Chubbuck. It was the second straight loss to the Warhawks following a 2-1 defeat the week before at the 4A District III Championship.
However, just like the year before, Middleton earned its way back with three straight wins. The Vikings recorded back-to-back victories over Ridgevue in the title game with a 1-0 win sealing the deal of becoming the first 4A program in 11 years and the second overall to achieve a three-peat.
“I remember as a freshman thinking it would just be cool to go to state and now I’m leaving as a three-time state champion,” Cortes said. “I mean it’s crazy. Some people can’t even say they went to state, let alone win it three times. It's just been an absolutely incredible ride with some amazing coaches and players who have been the secret to all our success."
A four-peat has never been done since the IHSAA starting sponsoring the state tournaments in 1997. So don’t expect Kiser to lower his expectations any time soon.
“When I sit the team down next year it will be the exact same speech that they got this year,” Kiser said. “Anything less than a state title is unacceptable. We are not going to talk about history or chasing history. We are going to talk about us as a program winning yet again a state title and leaving that legacy for others to follow.”