Youthful Hawks played beyond their years on road to state softball championship

CHARLESTON — In the realm of sports, it’s a rarity to see a team, especially a state championship-winning one, with a roster dominated by underclassmen.

Regarding the University High softball team, the 2024 Class AAA state champions, all but three players on the roster are either sophomores or freshmen.

While the three upperclassmen, seniors Ashlyn Weaver and Ally Jansen and junior Kelsey Park, certainly played critical roles on the team, it was the youngsters who carried UHS throughout the season and who made the plays on Thursday to help the Hawks claim the first state softball championship in program history.

Sophomore pitching duo Maddie Campbell and Sophia Lehosit combined for an 18-9 record this season in the circle heading into the state tournament, while also batting over .350 at the dish for the year.

Campbell pitched 12.2 innings across the two games the Hawks played against Washington on Thursday in the title series and allowed only three total runs (two earned). She capped her season off by throwing a six-inning, six-hit shutout in the decisive 10-0 victory that sealed the deal for UHS. Her maturity and ability to stay calm in the big moments and respond to pressure may be most impressive about Campbell’s approach.

“Maddie is a very athletic, confident, and coachable athlete,” UHS head coach Mindy Parks said. “You can always rely on her to get the job done. She plays her position well at shortstop and pitching, has tremendous speed on the bases, and hits the ball hard. She’s intelligent, which rolls over into her game when making decisions on the field.”

Campbell finished the season pre-state tournament with a .465 batting average with 40 hits and 27 RBI while scoring 40 runs.

Another sophomore for UHS, starting catcher Olivia Masoner, missed some of the regular season and the postseason with an injury but was cleared to play entering the state tournament. Despite missing the time, she was still second on the team in hits (29) and RBI (22) with a .475 batting average that led the team. The Hawks welcomed her back with open arms as she helped her team chase the title.

While out for injury, she was replaced by freshman Josalyn Phillips, who produced at a similar level as Masoner on both offense and defense. Phillips hit the ball at a .463 clip with 25 hits and 17 RBI this season. The freshman saved her best game of the year for last, going 3 for 4 in the decisive game on Thursday with four RBI and a run scored to help lead her team to the state championship.

“Coming in as a freshman was nerve-wracking at first,” Phillips said. “Olivia was always behind me and my other teammates believed in me. Coming into this week at states, I just focused on doing my job, which was all about playing as a team.”

The outfield trio of sophomores Adalyn Brown, Bri Royce and freshman Lexi Elza played well defensively at the state tournament and throughout the season. Elza, who bats in the leadoff spot for UHS, reached base three times on Thursday in the final game with two hits and a run scored.

“They’ve all been playing the game for a while and have the experience and confidence in themselves and their teammates to play at the level of an upperclassman,” Parks said of her youthful bunch. “These girls have been playing softball together since they were little, and they have a special relationship that any team would love to have.”

Now, after capturing the 2024 state championship as such a young team, the Hawks know the opportunities ahead of them are bright.

“Winning a state championship doesn’t happen very often and some coaches and athletes don’t get to experience what we have,” Parks said. “I hope this experience will inspire our girls to work harder to return to this stage. We lost two seniors who we will dearly miss as they were the core of this team, but I am confident that our returning players will work hard in the offseason and be ready for what could be an exciting 2025.”