East takes second at state for second straight season

May 18—GILLETTE — It was Thunder Basin's weekend at this year's Wyoming state softball tournament in Gillette.

The Bolts claimed their third consecutive state title Saturday afternoon, beating Cheyenne East 10-0 in six innings during the championship game. Thunder Basin went a perfect 4-0 through the bracket, including two run-rule wins over the Thunderbirds in consecutive days.

The latter had a deflating start after star shortstop Aleah Brooks left the game in the first inning with a lower body injury. Brooks had homered in three consecutive games going into the championship, but her absence was also felt in the field.

"It was (a big blow)," East coach Adam Galicia said about Brooks' injury. "Obviously, that takes a big stick out of your lineup. Although we have other girls that can play shortstop, we don't have other girls that have the same proficiency as her. That was a big loss there."

The Bolts pounced out to an early 3-0 lead after two innings, stretching it to seven with a four-run rally in the fifth. Thunder Basin plated two more runs in the bottom of the sixth, and senior Natalie Clonch put the bow on the Bolts' dominant run through the state tournament with a walk-off solo home run to enforce the 10-run mercy rule.

East struggled at the plate all afternoon, collecting just three hits in 20 at-bats. Lillian Vallejo took the loss in the pitcher's circle for the T-Birds, allowing six runs (four earned) on four hits while striking out six in four innings. Rylee Stephenson pitched 1 2/3 innings, with four runs allowed (one earned) on three hits. East also committed four errors defensively.

Vallejo, Alexa Luethy and Madelyn Artery were the lone T-Birds to reach base via a hit. Thunder Basin's Paige Shaffer was dominant in the circle, earning the win with a six-inning shutout with five strikeouts.

"They have solid hitting probably one through 12, (including) the first two or three coming off the bench," Galicia said. "... Give them a lot of credit on their part. They took it to us. I thought we played a little bit better and did a little bit better (today), even though the score doesn't reflect it."

The 10-0 loss came less than 24 hours after East lost to Thunder Basin by the same score in the semifinals of the winner's bracket. After falling into the elimination bracket, East clinched a spot in the title game with a thrilling 7-6 win over Campbell County early Saturday morning.

Sophomore McKenzie Millar was the star against the Camels. She connected on a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to break a 5-5 tie. The home run ended up being the game-winner after Vallejo earned the final three outs on the mound in the bottom half of the inning.

"McKenzie is going to be a household name — if she isn't already — over the next two years for softball," Galicia said. "She's just come so far. ... She's so solid behind the dish. I have no doubt that she's going to be all-conference and all-state this year, and she's going to be a future leader on the team."

Vallejo threw a complete game against the Camels, allowing six runs (three earned) on 10 hits while striking out eight. The senior was one of two T-Birds to play in their final high school softball game Saturday afternoon.

"As a team, it's been so special," Vallejo said. "It's been incredible to play with this amazing group of girls, because we lost a lot of good girls last year. To come into this year and go this far, it's just been insane. It's been so amazing."

Gracie Oswald was the other T-Birds senior this spring. Looking back to where the team was in March, Oswald was more than impressed with East's ability to make it to the state championship game for a second consecutive year.

"(We've come) a really long way," Oswald said. "We had a bunch of underclassmen, and I know at open gyms I was a little nervous about where we'd end up, but we've had a lot of girls step up. ... We made really big strides together, so I'm really proud of (this team)."

Vallejo and Oswald make up East's first class to play all four years of varsity softball in Wyoming since the sport was sanctioned in 2021. While they didn't walk away with the state title they aspired for, their impact goes far beyond bringing a trophy back to Cheyenne.

"We aren't where we are without these two seniors," Galicia said. "... For four years, they've been a major piece of the cog or the wheel to help get us to the success we needed to (get to). I'm proud of them."

East's run to the state title game should be valuable experience for the players returning next season. With back-to-back championship appearances, Galicia feels the T-Birds softball program will only grow stronger rolling into next season.

"I'm very proud," Galicia said. "We've got a lot of younger players. To be honest, coming into the season I wasn't really sure where we were at, just because we knew we were going to have some younger players.

"To end up here where we did — we just kept building and building. We had some road blocks during the season, but overall, I'm very pleased."

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Alex Taylor is the assistant editor for WyoSports and covers University of Wyoming athletics. He can be reached at Follow him on X at @alex_m_taylor22.