It felt like yesterday when the Fallon and Fernley softball teams were battling for state supremacy.
Although Fernley avenged a loss to Fallon in the regional title by winning the state crown last May, the Lady Wave are set up to give their cross-county rivals another memorable run. Fallon, which won two straight state titles before Fernley took last year’s championship, begins its season this weekend with a three-day tournament in Elk Grove, Calif.
“We feel real good how we started out,” Fallon coach Bill Archer said about Saturday’s three-team scrimmage.
Fallon returns all but three from last year’s runner-up season, even though Archer will be without two seniors because of injuries.
The pitching staff, though, battled inconsistencies last year, returns its top two contributors — senior hurler Rileigh Ricken and sophomore Miranda Ford. Ricken said last year’s growing pains have made the team stronger and closer together.
“We have an incredibly fundamentally strong team and the chemistry between the team is great both on and off the field,” she said. “It’s been amazing to see how much we have progressed even within just the first week of practice. We are truly a family and we know our goal and we know how to reach it. I have no doubt in my mind that we will reach our goal.”
Ricken posted a 3.18 ERA as the team’s ace, going 17-8 in 31 appearances logging 165.1 innings, while Ford went 8-4 with a 4.11 ERA in 59.2 innings. Ricken struck out 126 batters, walked 37 and allowed 144 hits, and Ford struck out 25, walked 18 and allowed 79 hits.
For Fallon to get back to the playoffs and face its nemesis, the pitching will need to be sharp like the two state championship seasons when the Lady Wave boasted a 1.57 ERA.
“We need to work at fundamentals and pitching,” Archer said about the team’s adjustments since last year. “What we learned was the (state title game) was a long game. We shouldn’t be giving up 14 runs to anybody. Fundamentals and pitching will put us in position to succeed.”
Ricken mirrored her pitching success at the plate, especially toward the end of the season. Ricken was second on the team in batting average (.407) and belted six home runs, including a pair in a late-season series against Fernley.
“Like all teams, we have areas that need improvement; however, with each practice, we are strengthening our weak points and making our strong points even stronger,” Ricken said. “It’s going to be an incredible season for us and I can’t wait to get out there and have the team come together on the field as a whole.”
Fellow senior Shelby Lawry and junior Ali Tedford return as the remaining upperclassmen, while seniors Gabby Sharpe and Jen Connelly (both injured) are out for the season. Lawry hit .383 last year in 24 of the team’s 39 games, while Tedford finished with a .322 average and 25 RBIs.
Although Archer will lean on Ricken, Lawry and Tedford to get the offense rolling, his five returning sophomores will be able to contribute with more experience.
Megan McCormick was third on the team in batting average as a freshman but tied the team lead with six home runs and was second in RBIs with 39. Paige Thorn, Kalyn Huckaby and Izzy Thomas return for their second season, while Nicole Mariezcurrena and Courtney Cross are rookies. The freshman class includes Kayla Buckmaster, Hannah Frank and Ashlie Alvarez.
Aside from competing against Fernley this season, Fallon will get more opportunities to face the region in a newly introduced schedule, which eliminates pod play against the Division III and instead focuses on three-game series against the other eight clubs in the Northern Division I-A. The top four teams will advance to the regional tournament, which will be held in either Fernley or Fallon.
Archer figures Fernley will give Fallon the most trouble this season but Elko, Spring Creek and Lowry could challenge the Lady Wave and Vaqueros. Regardless of the opponent, pitching depth will be more crucial this season.
“Having depth at pitching is invaluable,” Archer said. “I’m excited for (Ford). We expect her to win some games for us and give Ricken some rest.”
The league, however, is much more competitive this season thanks to consolidation.
Lowry nearly knocked off Fernley in the regional tournament consolation bracket but the Vaqueros won in the ninth inning. Fernley squeezed by Elko to begin the tournament as well. Elko was the hardest hit team, losing six seniors, while Fallon, Fernley and Lowry each lost no more than four.
“Competition is much more evened out,” Archer said about facing each team three times. “Each week, you have to come ready to play. There are no gimmie games. We like having a quality pitcher (to face). It helps our focus for hitting.”