The Lake City High softball team has dominated most of its opponents so far this season, and takes a 25-0 record into the state 5A tournament, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Post Falls High.
But the Timberwolves’ promising season was nearly derailed on April 1.
When the players showed up for practice that day at Ramsey Park in Coeur d’Alene — Lake City’s field was still recovering from February’s record snowfall — three of them were sporting injuries.
Senior catcher/utility player Jalyssa Beamer was on crutches — a knee injury suffered in a car crash earlier in the year had flared up, and she told coach Jesse Lenz she would be out a couple of weeks. Surgery was even mentioned.
Senior outfielder Emma Gray showed up in a boot, after apparently rolling a four-wheeler.
And finally, senior ace pitcher Ashley Kaufman quietly informed Lenz she had sprained her wrist playing in a volleyball tournament over the weekend.
As the other Timberwolves warmed up for practice, Lenz spoke to the three injured players.
“I’m just stressing at this point, and I have to go on a walk with my assistant coaches, because we have to talk strategy,” Lenz recalled.
“He’s standing at the pitchers (circle), talking to the other coaches, kicking the dirt,” senior second baseman Reilley Chapman remembered.
Finally, it was time for Lenz to talk to his team.
“We go to the huddle, and it’s really tense,” senior catcher/first baseman Olivia Zufelt recalled. “Bailee (Taylor, a senior center fielder) just counts it off and we’re all like, “April Fools!”
THAT’S THE form of leadership of the seven seniors on this year’s Lake City softball team — leading by fun and laughter.
“I feel like we have a good connection, because we’ve been playing together for a while ... we just have fun together,” said Kaufman, who has signed to play volleyball at NCAA Division II Central Washington. “It doesn’t feel like there’s that much pressure on the team.”
Five of the seven seniors — Beamer, Gray, Kaufman, Taylor and Chapman — have played together since the Coeur d’Alene Crush days in 8U. Zufelt joined them around 14U; utility player Brooke Collins is in her first season playing with this group.
Lenz, in his fifth season as T-Wolves coach, said the prank seemed somewhat believable because Kaufman and Gray, in particular, were injury prone. And Beamer indeed had been injured in a wreck.
“The funniest part was when Ashley said she would be out for a couple of weeks,” said Zufelt, the instigator of the prank. “Jesse said, ‘Well, there goes the season.’
“We always give him a hard time about that.
“That was definitely our greatest accomplishment of our four years here,” Chapman said of the prank.
A state title this weekend might trump that, but in any event, it’s been quite the season on the field so far for Lake City.
The T-Wolves have tied the single-season home run record with 53 — set by the 2013 squad, which also went undefeated for Lake City’s last state title. Zufelt leads the way with 11, followed by the lefty hitting Gray with 10 and Beamer and junior Ashlynn Allen with eight each.
Lake City sports a .432 batting average, led by Kaufman at .594.
“They are all unique, but they make it work and they all get along,” Lenz said. “It’s a pretty interesting and dynamic group.”
ZUFELT AND BEAMER share catching duties. Both can play first base and in the outfield, so both bats can stay in the lineup.
Zufelt is batting .532 with a team-high 49 RBIs.
“Competitor, inquisitive, always asking why, how,” Lenz said. “She always keeps the coaches on their toes. Even if it’s the softball budget, or why we’re doing something at practice, Oz is always there quizzing us.”
“I like to understand things, and know why I’m doing them,” said Zufelt, who has signed to play at NCAA Division I Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
“Also, someone else may have the same question,” Collins interjected.
Beamer, who has signed with NAIA College of Idaho in Caldwell, is the primary catcher for Kaufman, who is 19-0 with an 0.47 ERA. The two have been batterymates since those 8U days.
“Smart aleck,” is how Lenz describes Beamer. “Her arm is phenomenal. She’s a great catcher, has a great softball mind, but loves to have fun while doing it. Will roast me any chance she gets. We have a great working relationship.”
“I usually mess with him during practice and games,” she said, even if it means biting into his treasured gum, as she did when Lake City played in the Tri-Cities last month.
Gray, who played center field the last two years, moved to right field this year to accommodate Taylor, who transferred from Coeur d’Alene. Gray, who hits .459, also found a new fun thing to do in right.
“It’s nice throwing people out at first,” said Gray, who has signed to play at North Idaho College. “I like throwing people out; that’s my favorite part of the game.”
“The first time she did it, I don’t think I was even ready,” Zufelt said. “I was off the base, and she started throwing, and I was like, ‘Oh, whatcha doin?’ I learned quickly, because Emma’s throws don’t give you a lot of time to think.”
“Emma Gray battles,” Lenz said. “She truly has become a great outfielder with a great arm. Emma is truly a great teammate and a great person.”
THEN THERE’S Chapman.
The second baseman is listed at 5-foot-3 (on the volleyball roster), but is the proverbial athlete that plays much bigger than that.
“Chapman is someone who you want on any team you put together, ever,” Lenz said. “We talk about a B1, B2, B3 player. and she’s a B1 ... bought in. She’s not the biggest person in the world, but she plays with a ton of heart. and makes up for it with heart.”
Chapman, who could play either softball or volleyball in college, has decided to attend Gonzaga, where she plans to major in business and minor in marketing.
She said she was surprised to hear Lenz label her a B1.
“A B1 ... always helping, if they playing or not playing, positive attitude,” Chapman said. “B3s are negative, selfish, only care about themselves. B2s kinda fluctuate between the two.
“I do try to have a good attitude. My main thing is that softball should be fun; it’s a game, and you shouldn’t lose that side of if. Once you lose that side of it, that’s when you start not playing as well. When you have fun, and start playing with your teammates, that’s when everything starts flowing.”
How tough is Chapman?
A few weeks ago, Chapman was on third base, and eased a few steps off the bag on the pitch. One of the Lake City players turned on an inside pitch and hit a liner down the third-base line, just foul.
That’s where Chapman was — in foul territory, in case she got hit.
She did. In the ribs, on her right side.
“I’m not going to lie,” Chapman said. “In the moment, I thought I was for sure like, dead, basically. (But) the next day I didn’t even bruise and I was like, I have nothing to prove that I got drilled by a line drive, except maybe the sound that everyone heard.”
Chapman dropped to the ground for several minutes, but remained in the game.
“I’d like to say it was my six-pack that goes all the way up to my ribs, but that’s not the case,” she said. “I think I just moved correctly, as best as I possibly could, to absorb the shock of it. I just dropped immediately. I couldn’t breathe for a few minutes, but I was fine after that.”
Taylor, the leadoff hitter, played second base at Coeur d’Alene, and moved to center field with Lake City — center is where she played on her summer-ball team.
Taylor came to Lake City her junior year, and had to play last year on the junior varsity per transfer rules.
“A lot of my friends at CHS graduated, so I thought it might be good to transfer and re-invent myself somewhere else,” Taylor said. “I wanted to come to a school where I didn’t know a lot of people; I’m glad I got to make the change, honestly.”
“BT’s been a huge pickup for us,” Lenz said. “Bailee fits in with these girls, and has played with these girls forever. and has really anchored center field for us. She had to sit out (of varsity) last year, but has been a huge piece as a leadoff hitter, and moving into center for us.
“These girls have accepted their roles,” Lenz said, “wherever it may be, even if it’s not their primary position, and they’ve really flourished in them.”
Speaking of accepting their roles ...
Collins has signed to play softball at Yakima Valley College, but has a hard time cracking the lineup on her high school team. But she has been a model teammate, they say.
“Really excited for her to get to play at next level, and get to play every day and see what she can do there,” Lenz said. “She could start for a lot of teams around here.”
“Brooke is a B1 for sure,” Chapman said.
“She always brings the energy up, for sure,” Gray adds.
Perhaps Zufelt, the inquisitive instigator, summed it up best — not only talking about Collins, but about the T-Wolves as a unit.
“Everybody on the team has a role,” Zufelt said, “and she’s one of the better people at playing her role and that really helps the team.”