Boise State softball is focused on making the postseason after record-setting year

The Boise State softball team made quite a splash last year in head coach Justin Shults’ first season with the program.

The Broncos went 40-10, tying the program record for wins in a season, and finished No. 2 in the Mountain West with a program-record 19 wins against conference teams. They also set a program record with 74 home runs.

Shults said that kind of success can create unrealistic expectations heading into the next season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“You want those unrealistic expectations because it means your program is moving in the right direction,” Shults told the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday.

Shults said he feels more settled in Boise and is excited about how far the program has come since he was hired in June 2021. The Broncos are also welcoming 11 new players this year, including eight freshmen, which he said sometimes makes it feel like year one all over again. But the Broncos’ skipper isn’t shying away from those unrealistic expectations.

“The postseason is the one thing we need to check off our list this year,” Shults said. “I don’t care how we do it, but it’s important in terms of showing how much we’ve grown as a program.”

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Boise State trailed Mountain West champion San Diego State by just one game last year, finishing 19-5 in conference play. The Broncos missed out on an NCAA Tournament bid despite their impressive record.

“We watched the selection show as a team last year in part because I wanted them to feel that disappointment,” Shults said. “We’re letting that fuel us. We know what our purpose is and why we’re showing up every day and grinding it out.”

The road to the Broncos’ third appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the past six years begins this weekend in Orlando, Florida. They open the season Friday in the Black & Gold Tournament at UCF, and three of their first five games will be against the No. 15-ranked Knights and No. 10 Georgia.

Shults said he’s a fan of jumping right into the fire against top competition because it may be the key to avoiding another postseason disappointment.

“We learned last year that it’s not just about the 40 wins,” Shults said. “It’s more about our resume and getting good information about where we are early in the year so we can make adjustments and be ready for conference play.”

The Broncos will have more control of their destiny this year. The Mountain West will hold an end-of-season tournament to crown its champion for the first time since 2006. Defending champion San Diego State will host.

Here’s a look at the 2023 Boise State softball team, which was picked No. 1 in the Mountain West preseason coaches’ poll last week. San Diego State was picked to finish second, followed by UNLV.

Returning starters

P Taylor Caudill, Jr. — Caudill went 15-5 last season with a team-high 142 strikeouts. She and former Bronco Hannah Bailey were the first Mountain West duo to each win 15 games in a season since pitchers from Fresno Sate and Colorado State did it in 2019.

Caudill is the Broncos’ only starting pitcher back from last season, but she’ll get some help from fifth-year senior Lindsey Walljasper and sophomore Brook Thompson, Shults said.

OF Kelsey Hall, Sr. — Hall earned All-Mountain West honors last season after she tied former Bronco Kelsey Lalor with a team-high 13 home runs. She also led the Broncos with a .392 batting average and ranked No. 4 on the team with 32 RBIs. She’ll bat anywhere from leadoff to No. 7 in the lineup this year, Shults said, and she’ll play right field and center field.

OF Alycia Flores, R-Jr. — Flores was an all-conference pick last year after she finished No. 2 on the team with 51 base hits and added a .375 batting average and 34 RBIs. She’ll see time in right field and at designated hitter this year, Shults said.

IF Eliyah Flores, 6th-year senior — Eliyah, the older of the sisters, wasn’t planning to return this year but had a change of heart in January, according to Shults. She earned all-conference honors last year with a .323 batting average and 25 RBIs and will open the season at shortstop.

Eagle shortstop Sydney Groves fields an Owyhee ground ball for an out in the 5A District Three softball championship game May 13 at Borah High.
Eagle shortstop Sydney Groves fields an Owyhee ground ball for an out in the 5A District Three softball championship game May 13 at Borah High.

Key newcomers

IF Sydney Groves, Fr. — Groves was named 5A SIC all-conference player of the year and All-Idaho player of the year after leading state runner-up Eagle to an 18-11 record last year. She led the state with 20 home runs and posted a .667 batting average.

P Amber Thornton, Fr. — The former standout at Timberline High was named honorable mention 5A SIC all-conference as a senior. She may also see some innings early this season, Shults said, adding the Broncos will have better depth in the pitching circle than last year and they’re going to have to lean on it more.

P Kasey Aguinaga, Fr. — The lefty went 30-1 and racked up 292 strikeouts during her final two seasons at Heritage High in California. She has a chance to become one of the Broncos’ top pitchers early this season, Shults said.