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Magic in Malad
The Dragons' softball team just keeps on winning.
Published: 5/6/2021 10:04:32 PM
 

ORDER GAME PHOTOS

It’s been a long time since the Malad Dragons have lost a softball game. April 20, 2019, to be exact.

Between then and now, they’ve survived a shortened and relocated state tournament, a coaching change, a season that was lost to the coronavirus pandemic, save for two games, and the unexpected roster turnover that came with it.

In all, Malad has won 33 games in a row — 13 straight, including the 2A state title game, to end the 2019 season, two before the 2020 season was canceled and all 18 this year — and is rolling into the 2A District 5 tournament with a dominant average margin of victory of 12.7 runs.

If the Dragons continue their torrid pace and winning ways through the postseason, they’ll be Idaho’s first undefeated state champion since Eagle in 2016.

“We take it as a pride thing. … We love the feeling of winning and knowing we did well,” senior captain Riley Dorius said of the streak. “And so I think it pushes us a little more.”

Dorius was one of the Dragons’ heroes during their state title run of ’19. That year, the 2A state tournament was changed to single-elimination and moved out of the state entirely, to nearby Pullman, Washington, because of weather and field conditions. The dramatic title game, a 13-12 Malad victory against McCall-Donnelly, was the parting moment of glory for head coach Bob Hannah, who relinquished his post after the season.

That, combined with six seniors departing, could have signaled a down year in Malad. But new head coach Christie Schow didn’t see it that way. She had previously coached the Dragons’ junior varsity and summer city league teams and was aware of her new squad’s potential. So was Dorius, who headlined a strong group of upperclassmen. Neither the Dragons nor the rest of the state experienced the full scope of Malad’s promise in 2020, as the season was scratched after the team’s first two games because of the spread of COVID-19.

It was a crushing blow to Schow and the Dragons’ six seniors.

“It was pretty devastating,” Schow said. “I put a lot of work into the preseason by getting myself organized, getting ready. … I just went in my office and I cried a little bit just because it was so disappointing.”

Schow wasn’t sure how this year’s squad would shape up. Dorius, Malad’s ace and best hitter, is back. So are senior catcher Shaelie Ketchell, junior shortstop Madison Green and senior third baseman Kodi Phillips. Dorius, Ketchell and Green had the three highest batting averages on the 2019 state title team and give the Dragons experience at three vital positions.

Beyond that, the roster was mostly a mystery. The handful of freshmen and sophomores on varsity weren’t even in high school when Malad last played a full season. But some players, like Dorius, played for travel teams during the summer, while others trained together or on their own to hone and maintain their skills.

Once the 2021 season finally arrived, Schow, who is also a yoga instructor, worked on establishing team camaraderie. She didn’t play softball past high school, but has extensive experience working with youth in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and cites that relationship- and confidence-building as her biggest strength. She makes sure to blend a fierce desire to win with laid-back team-bonding activities. After Malad won the tournament it hosts annually, the Scott Ray Invitational, a practice consisted of 30 minutes of yoga and a team meal at Pizza Stop.

“Our team atmosphere is great. We all get along, it doesn’t matter what age we are,” Dorius said. “We’re always together, and I think that just makes us stronger. We’re able to work better and trust each other on the field as well as just everyday life.”

That chemistry induced immediate and sustained success. Dorius has led the way at the plate and in the circle, with a .667 batting average, six home runs and a 0.67 ERA. Ketchell is almost equally potent with her bat, hitting .500 with four homers. And freshman Hallie Horsley has emerged as Malad’s most dependable power hitter. She’s clubbed 11 of the team’s 27 long balls.

The Dragons have won 15 games by 10 or more runs. During the five-game Scott Ray Invitational, they outscored opponents by a combined score of 64-0.

“Our coach always says that we have a target on our back,” Dorius said. “And I think it helps to push us to do our best.”

Despite the winning history Malad softball boasts — five state championships, including four of the last seven — Schow said she doesn’t feel pressure to live up to her predecessors. Scott Ray, for whom the Dragons’ annual tournament is named, and Hannah each coached Malad to multiple titles.

“I don’t feel like I’m filling anybody’s shoes or anything like that,” Schow said. “I just think that I’m going out there and helping these girls along and developing them into good people and good athletes and to the best team that we can make them.”

Ray and Hannah have sent congratulatory texts after wins and offer occasional guidance or pats on the back, Schow said. And her assistants, Aysha Maddox, Arlene Shulz, Bri Adams and Merrill Dorius — Riley Dorius’ father — help steady the ship.

But any burden of winning championships is mostly felt by the players. They like it that way.

“We’ve seen how successful our program has been in the past and we want to keep that alive,” Riley Dorius said. “So it pushes us to want to be better.”


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