The gaudy offensive numbers, especially her state-leading RBI total, make Ripon Christian junior Elizabeth Thomas an obvious candidate for the All-Southern Athletic League MVP award.
Knights coach Lenny Rizzuto insists there is much more to this power-hitting catcher.
“A bunch of things,” he said. “Most of all, her leadership qualities.”
She was a big reason why Ripon Christian captured its first league championship, and second overall, since 1993. SAL coaches could not deny her impact and voted her as league MVP.
The Knights (13-1 SAL, 23-5 overall) finished two games ahead of runner-up Waterford (11-3, 19-9) and placed second in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs after capturing the last two Division VII titles.
Pitcher Madison de Graaf and corner infielder Morgan Van Elderen also made all-league.
Thomas amassed 73 RBIs, the most in California, according to MaxPreps. She also blasted 15 doubles, 12 homers, hit for a .609 average and 1.163 slugging percentage. Her most productive outing came in a 23-4 league victory over Denair, which she torched for three home runs and a double and 10 RBIs.
Rizzuto attributes Thomas’ breakout campaign to her work ethic, as she puts in extra time to finetune her powerful swing. He also praises her improvement behind the plate. She had just two errors and posted a .990 fielding percentage this past season.
“She calls the game,” Rizzuto said. “We’ve been working with her since she was a freshman and we gave her the reins. She does a phenomenal job. She and Madi have really put it together. Madi can just follow her lead. She doesn’t have to think as much; she can just throw.”
Rizzuto nominated de Graaf for the other two major awards. Best Offensive Player went to Mariposa’s Kiya Smith (.484, seven HRs, 13 doubles, 41 RBIs), while Waterford’s Tawni McCarty (19-9, 2.43 ERA, 305 Ks) is Pitcher of the Year. Rizzuto was named Coach of the Year.
De Graaf hit for a .526 average with nine doubles, three triples, three homers and 36 RBIs. From the pitchers’ circle she compiled a 21-4 record, 2.14 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 150 2/3 innings.
“I thought she could have gotten Pitcher of the Year or Offensive Player of the Year,” Rizzuto said. “She had a great year in the circle and was another leader for us along with Liz.”
Van Elderen has developed into a three-sport standout at Ripon Christian. In softball, she has had to play different positions since her freshman year while continuing to contribute with the bat. She turned in a .387 average while driving in 31 runs. She also had a .944 fielding percentage.
“She’s our most improved player,” Rizzuto said. “Her freshman year she played the outfield, then we had to move her to first because our starting first baseman had ACL surgery and she had never played at first before. This year, our all-league third baseman gets hurt and we put her there.
“I don’t know where she’s going to be next year, but she worked hard learning new positions and she has done a great job.”
First baseman Ariel Vander Woude and second baseman Sarah Brown earned honorable mention. Like Thomas, de Graaf, Van Elderem Vander Woude and Brown are all juniors.