After winning the 4A state championship the previous year and only losing three games all season entering the state tournament, many on the Middleton softball team probably expected to roll to another state title.
That changed when Middleton suffered a 5-1 loss to Twin Falls in the first round of the state tournament this past May.
“I think it was a huge shock to them and kind of a big wake up call that they had to play their best in order to keep playing,” Middleton coach Rob Kiser said.
“After the game when I talked with the kids I put it on them. I said as a coach we can’t swing, we can’t field, we can’t pitch for you. It falls on you to handle what you can on the field. From that point on the girls kept finding ways to get it done.”
Middleton somehow won two elimination games later that day and rolled off four wins the next day – including two against Ridgevue in the championship round – to win a second straight 4A state title.
The Vikings won six games in barely 24 hours to win the title. For their achievement of winning back-to-back state championships, they are the Idaho Press-Tribune’s Sports Stars Spring Girls Team of the Year.
“This was an incredibly special team,” senior outfielder Tayler Guerra said. “We basically had the same team we had last year and we had a great bond on and off the field. We always wanted to hang out with each other.
“I think that was a really big part of it. We all had a good connection with each other.”
Middleton trailed 2-1 entering the bottom of the seventh inning in the winner-take-all title game against Ridgevue. They put the tying run on third base and the winning run on second – but had two outs, and a 1-2 count on Guerra.
One strike away from losing the state title, Guerra instead connected on a soft single into right field that allowed both runners to score for a 3-2 victory.
“I don’t know how to put it into words,” Kiser said. “When you are down to your last strike with two outs, you kind of wonder if you’ve just run out of luck. There was just such a sense of pride in what they were able to do. I couldn’t tell you the last time someone lost the first game and won six straight to win it. That’s a rare feat.
“We came up with clutch hits, great defensive plays at the right time. It was truly a team effort.”
Starting pitchers Lainey Lyle and Reylene Cortes led the Vikings in the circle. They alternated games during the state tournament, and it was Cortes who won the title game.
Middle infielders Sage Huggins and Aleah Mendiola and catcher Eleonora Conley were also big contributors, according to Kiser.
Middleton finished 30-4 on the season in winning their second straight state title. And win No. 30 was one they will never forget.
“It was definitely the way I wanted to end my athletic career,” Guerra said. “It was definitely the best ending possible.
“To do it again was an amazing feeling. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else.”