Dayton softball on a roll with Houk |

Dayton softball on a roll with Houk

Dave Price

Dusti Houk experienced some lean times during her first two seasons as head coach of the Dayton High School softball program.

The Dust Devils were 3-11 in their Northern 3A league and only won nine games overall in 2002. They had two league victories the year before. But through it all, Houk patiently developed a young group of players toward the time when they would start winning.

That time is now.

The Dust Devils are 24-4-1 overall and stand second in the Northern 3A with a 10-2 record coming into their regular-season ending doubleheader at home against Yerington on Saturday. Dayton needs only a split to clinch second-place and home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs. A sweep keeps their championship hopes alive because first-place Lowry (11-1) plays a doubleheader at No. 4 Spring Creek (7-5) on Saturday.

Then again, there’s probably not much difference between the No. 1 and 2 seeds to the Dust Devils. They’re on a roll, having won 12 of their last 13 games, including a 13-3 verdict against Whittell Tuesday afternoon in Gardnerville.

“The girls are playing well. They’re playing relaxed and they’re playing confident,” Houk said. “This is the time of year where we need to be peaking and hopefully that’s what we’re doing.”

This has been a building process for a team that includes two seniors and nine juniors.

“Ten of these girls were on the team last year, so you could call it a veteran team, but we’re still pretty young,” Houk said.

Senior first baseman Rachel Hurt is in her fourth varsity season and catcher Lacy Taylor her third. Junior Jessie Ayres is in her third year as a starting center fielder and all-purpose player Keeli Garcia is in her third year as well. Ace pitcher Nicole Greer was brought up to the varsity midway through last season and earned honorable mention all-league recognition as a freshman.

“It has been a steady progression,” Houk said. “The last two years, the girls have worked hard in practice and they’ve been like sponges, they’ve absorbed everything and now everything is coming together.”

Sort of like everything came together and led Houk into coaching.

Houk graduated from Carson High School in 1988 and played for the Senators’ 1985 state championship softball team. She went on to play four years at Hawaii Pacific University and graduated with a major in justice administration.

After returning to Nevada, Houk worked three years at Rite of Passage and then took a job at the Legislature that lasted for one session. She was looking for something else, though.

“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life behind a desk, so I decided to go for a teaching degree,” said Houk, now an eighth grade science teacher at Dayton Intermediate School. “It’s the best move I’ve ever made. I love teaching and I love being out here with the girls. I’m happy to be here. It’s just great to watch the girls perform and see the smiles on their faces when they’re successful.”

There’s been a lot to smile about this season. The Dust Devils have lost only to Lowry and Bishop Manogue in league, to defending Northern 2A tournament champion Whittell, and 10-5 to Northern 4A foe Carson. They also tied Spanish Springs in a contest called after 10 innings.

Now, if the Dust Devils get past Yerington (6-6 Northern 3A), they host a best-of-three series against the No. 3 seed (Manogue is currently third). The winner of the playoff series advances to the four-team 3A state tournament.

“Our next four games are important,” Houk said. “Our goal is to get to state. To do that, we need to be focused for every game. We can’t count anybody out.”

Houk can’t help but think back to her 1985 season when the George Parmenter-coached Carson Senators went 23-1 and captured a state championship.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago,” Houk said, smiling. “I remember when we won state in 1985. I’d like these girls to have the opportunity to find out what it feels like to win state because it’s a great feeling.”

Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal