Hillcrest hitters end season in state playoffsJul 01, 2022 09:04AM ● By Julie Slama
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Hillcrest High’s softball and baseball players struck out winning in the first round of state playoffs.
The Huskies softball team lead nearby Alta High after the first inning in the first round, 4-1. Then, Hillcrest gave up a grand slam in the next inning while only scoring one more run before ultimately losing to the Hawks, 5-17.
“I called two change-ups in a row,” said Anthony Ricci said after his first season as head softball coach. “The first one the (Alta) girl kind of buckled on, then she sat well on the second and popped it over the fence. I should have called a different pitch; that was my fault they got the grand slam that put them ahead.”
The Huskies were without their star senior pitcher Maddie Sluga, who was out with an injury.
“I think the season went good; Maddie gave the team as much as they could, but the injury got the best of her so at the end of the season, she had to tap out,” Ricci said. “Sophomore Lily Hutchings stepped in and did a great job pitching both varsity and JV.”
The Huskies finished with an overall record of 8-17, with wins over Olympus, Brighton, Cottonwood, Skyline, Altamont, and Juan Diego Catholic High School and The Meadows School from Las Vegas. Hillcrest finished sixth in region play.
Ricci said that players were shuffled around the season to cover injuries and said that freshman Skylynn Salazar Bell was an asset as she could “play wherever I needed her—second, short (stop), third, and even pitch a little. She really stepped up and did a great job.”
Six seniors graduated, but “we have sophomores who are going to be juniors next year and they are looking really good,” he said.
Freshman Nyomi Houston played outfield and had never played softball before.
“She’s probably one of the quickest kids I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I think our underclassmen we have will be right there to step right into varsity.”
Ricci expects about half his varsity squad will play competitively this summer, which also will help them be in shape when it is time to get some skill work in back at school.
Baseball coach Daryl Hernandez also is expecting several players to get some hits in over the summer after “an OK” season where the Huskies finished seventh in region at 3-19 overall with wins over Provo, Granger and Cedar Valley.
They lost to Springville in the first round of state.
Hillcrest finished the season after senior Ryder Mathis, who signed with Utah Valley University to play ball, suffered a thumb injury.
“Not only did we lose him behind the plate as a good catcher, but also lost out on his hitting skills and leadership on the field at all times,” he said.
Hernandez pulled junior Josh Mullen from second base to catch, replacing Mullen with junior Cooper Limb, who then suffered a finger injury.
“We ended up having a third-string second baseman coming in. It all was a defensive change that was unexpected in the last few weeks,” he said. “It was a learning curve. The kids are pushing their hardest, but sometimes, just the breaks don’t go anybody’s way. I mean, we’re in every single game and it’s just usually one or two innings that hurt us.”
Hernandez said that then players try to overcome that and sometimes, “try to do almost too much opposed to just trusting themselves and everybody else around them to do their jobs” which compounds those innings.
“Definitely a lot of our focus on the game will push toward the mental portion of the game,” he said.
The Huskies graduated eight seniors, including four-year manager Cam Clark.
In addition to Mathis, Bryce Young signed to play ball at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois and Gabe Moore committed to Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Virginia.
“Our team this year talked about leaving a legacy and that already started with these kids. They messaged me asking about more workouts, they texted their team, making each other accountable for working out and hanging out together. It’s been awesome,” Hernandez said. “Already we’ve seen some leadership from some of our upcoming team and having that legacy and ownership continue. We will return junior Jeb Thomas; he will pitch and be a leader on our team next year. Junior Josh Mullen will be back and help lead the team. We’ve developed a couple other kids to fill spots, so next year is looking pretty good.”