Lillian Vallejo's lethal pitching helped East return to title tilt

May 22—CHEYENNE — Being prepared for a role is one thing. Being able to execute that role is another.

Senior Lillian Vallejo did what Cheyenne East expected from her, both as a pitcher and leadoff hitter, during the regular season. She elevated her production during the stretch run of the regular season.

"She exceeded all of our expectations," East coach Adam Galicia. "Things that affected her earlier in the season as she got used to her new role weren't affecting her anymore, and we were our best because of it."

That was especially true during the Wyoming state tournament this past weekend.

Vallejo, a right-hander, pitched 24 2/3 innings across five state tournament games, posting a 3-1 record in the circle. She scattered 26 hits and surrendered 14 earned runs for a 3.97 earned-run average. Vallejo struck out 32 batters and walked just eight hitters to help the Thunderbirds finish as state runners-up for the second consecutive season.

Those efforts earned Vallejo Prep Athlete of the Week honors from WyoSports' Cheyenne staff.

"I was nervous going into this season because I knew there were some big shoes to fill," Vallejo said.

"Now, looking back, I did a good job of not letting that pressure get to me, and focusing on doing my job and doing what was best for the team."

Galicia and his assistants were clear with Vallejo about their expectations for her starting in her freshman year. They thought she was capable of being East's workhorse in the circle the way lefty Ariana Galicia was in 2021 and righty Jaylyn Christensen had been during the 2022 and '23 campaigns.

It's a pressure-packed role, and that pressure got to Vallejo early in the season.

"The first couple games were nerve-wracking, and I let the emotions get the best of me," she said. "I did my best to remember my teammates had my back and the coaches wouldn't have put me in that position if they didn't think I could handle it.

"They knew I had what it takes and believed in me, so I had to believe in myself."

Vallejo finished the season with 82 2/3 innings pitched, a 9-3 record and one save. She posted a 4.56 ERA and fanned 99 batters.

This season wasn't without its ups and downs. Vallejo struggled to get strike calls early in the season because her breaking pitches nibbled on the edges of the strike zone.

"Some umpires don't understand the spins in softball that well right now," Galicia said. "They'd see that a pitch ended up off the plate instead of being on the corner when it crossed the plate.

"We had a lot of umpires who didn't suit her pitching style. ... I told her, 'We adjust to them.'"

That meant throwing pitches that caught more of the plate as they crossed it, leaving no doubt in the umpires' minds that the ball was in the strike zone before it reached the catcher's glove. The risk was catching too much of the plate and having pitches pounded all over the field.

Vallejo found a happy medium. Instead of letting strike calls dictate her emotions and adversely impact her pitching, Vallejo found where the strike zone was and started living there.

She estimates she has improved 10-fold as a pitcher this spring.

"The first few games, I'd throw strikes and was just trying to hit the strike zone," she said. "Now, I have confidence in my pitches, and I have so much more movement and speed on my pitches.

"I know I have a team backing me up, and I can throw more freely and hit my spots. I'm a lot better pitcher now."

Vallejo compiled four seven-inning complete game efforts. None was bigger than a 7-6 victory over Campbell County that got East into the state championship game. She scattered 10 hits and gave up just three earned runs while striking out eight batters and walking just two.

She describes that effort against the Camels as a game she'll look back on fondly when she's further removed from her prep career.

"I was so locked in that I didn't realize I was getting some of the best hitters in the state out on some easy pitches," Vallejo said. "The whole team was locked in backing me up, and we were hitting the ball well, too.

"I had eight or nine strikeouts against the No. 1 team in the state. That's something I'm going to remember."

Others recognized for their efforts include:

n Aryana Booth, girls soccer, East: The senior goalkeeper posted 12 saves across the Lady Thunderbirds' two matches in the Class 4A state tournament.

n Aleah Brooks, McKenzie Millar, Grace Oswald and Rylee Stephenson, softball, East: Brooks, a junior was 4-for-15 with a double, three home runs and eight RBI during the state tournament. She missed most of the state championship game after suffering a hamstring injury during her first at-bat.

Millar, a sophomore, was 7-of-15 with a home run and three RBI. That included a two-run home run with two outs in the top of the seventh that gave East a 7-5 lead during a 7-6 elimination game win over Campbell County.

Oswald, a senior, went 7-for-15 with a triple and four RBI.

Stephenson, a junior, was 6-of-16 with three doubles and six RBI. She also pitched 5-2/3 innings, striking out six batters.

n Jessica Hoffman, girls track and field, Pine Bluffs: The junior repeated as Class 2A discus state champion with a toss of 116 feet, 6 inches on her final attempt. Hoffman also won shot put with a heave of 35-7 3/4 and placed fourth in high jump (4-10).

n Tegan Krause, boys track, Cheyenne Central: The sophomore was Class 4A's state runner-up in both the 100- and 400-meter dashes.

n Maggie Madsen, girls track, East: The freshman was state runner-up in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, while also placing fifth in the 800.

n Taliah Morris, girls track and field, East: The senior put on a show at the Wyoming Class 4A state meet, winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes and long jump. Morris broke a 26-year-old state record in the 100 with a time of 11.68 seconds during the prelims.

Morris broke the overall state record in the 200 — another 26-year-old mark — with a time of 23.70 seconds during the prelims. She bested that record in the finals by crossing the finish line in 23.45.

In long jump, Morris posted three separate record-breaking marks. Her final marked jump went 20 feet, 8 1/2 inches. It was Morris' fourth long jump state championship.

She also was part of East's state runner-up 4x100 relay team.

n Ethan Norris, boys track and field, Burns: The senior cleared a personal-best mark of 12 feet, 8 inches to win the Class 2A pole vault state championship. He also was state runner-up in both the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.

n Karson Tempel, girls track and field, Central: The junior repeated as state champion in triple jump, leaping 38 feet, 3 1/2 inches on her final attempt. Tempel also was fourth in long jump with a personal-best mark of 18-4 1/2 .

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at or 307-633-3137. Follow him on X at @jjohnke.