High School Sports

Powered by sophomore sensation Sela Rodriguez, East softball team is among the top contenders heading to state

The last time the Bettye Davis East Anchorage softball team finished the regular season with just one loss on its record also happened to be the last year the team won a Division I state title.

After going 19-1 in the regular season, the 2024 Thunderbirds look primed to repeat history thanks to a well-balanced team that features excellent pitching, great defense and strong at-bats.

“I think every player is getting up to the plate ready to hit, and they’re looking at the pitches they can crush,” East first-year head coach Virginia Griffith said. “I’ve got about seven players batting over .500, and I’ve got a deep pitching bench.”

East’s top pitcher is sophomore sensation Sela Rodriguez who pitches 60 mph and recorded 107 strikeouts during the regular season. She is also one of the Thunderbirds’ most explosive bats with a batting average over .500 and six regular-season home runs under her belt.

“She is a great (addition) and I’m super happy that she is going to East,” Griffith said. “When I have her on the mound, I know that we’ve got a strong defense and she’s a strong bat. … I love having her on the team.”

While the Thunderbirds have finished in the top five at the state tournament most years in the past decade, they haven’t come out on top since 2019. This year’s team is looking to change that.

“We always come in with that ‘we’re going to try to win’ mindset,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone is up, everyone is positive, and that’s a really good thing about this team.”


Having a versatile player who is just as dangerous on the mound as she is at the plate or playing third base is a tremendous asset for East. It’s why Griffith calls Rodriguez her “triple threat.”

“As a pitcher, you usually have a really, really strong arm, and she’s a triple threat because not only does she pitch and crush it at the plate, but she’s also great attitude-wise,” Griffith said. “She cheers and picks everybody up and is a positive influence on everybody.”

Even though Rodriguez excels both on the mound as well as at the plate, because the Thunderbirds have so many other potent scoring threats, Rodriguez takes the most pride in her work as a pitcher.

“If I’m striking a bunch of people out, it fills me up with joy because my teammates get to take it easy and they get to bat for me,” she said. “If I’m performing on defense, they’re going to perform for me on offense.”

Rodriguez loves how this year’s team meshes together on and off the field and how teammates are encouraging one another no matter what happens over the course of a game.

“We pick each other up whenever we’re down, and when we are down, like, we’re gonna come back,” she said. “We’re gonna be fighting.”

Lessons learned from first defeat

The only loss East suffered during its dominant 2024 regular-season run came at the hands of defending Division I state champion Chugiak in the penultimate week of the regular season. As much as the 4-3 defeat stung, the Thunderbirds didn’t dwell on it but rather learned from the humbling experience.

“The girls were tired, they had played 11 games in seven days and they didn’t lay down,” Griffith said. “They rallied, they just didn’t rally in time, and in the next game, we came back and beat Dimond 8-1.”

Rodriguez says the players don’t take any loss to heart or dwell on them because they know how good of a team they are.

“It’s mainly about coming out and having fun,” she said. “Winning is a big part of it, but we don’t show up to win, necessarily. We show up to play together as a team, and I’d rather have that one loss in the regular season because it shows us we can’t be slacking off.”

Now the Thunderbirds are focusing on the state tournament, slated to be held Thursday-Saturday in Fairbanks.

Griffith believes East, Chugiak and South are the top contenders but isn’t underestimating anyone they might go up against. The Division I field is rounded out by Colony, West Valley and Dimond. The Division II tournament includes Delta, Thunder Mountain, Soldotna, Kodiak, Sitka and North Pole.

“Just because we’re the top three, it doesn’t mean that four and five aren’t going to sneak in and work hard,” she said. “Every single team is working hard out here, and all the girls love playing and it’s fun to watch.”

That was the case in the Cook Inlet Conference tournament last week as the Thunderbirds suffered their second and third losses of the seasons. East fell to Chugiak 10-4 on Friday night in the semifinals and then to perennial powerhouse South 6-3 in the losers bracket Saturday with a chance to play for the title on the line.

Reigning state champs are locked in and reloaded

Chugiak thwarted South’s attempt to pull off a three-peat in last year’s state finals while snapping its program’s own 20-year title drought with a star-studded senior class, highlighted by twin sisters Karlee and Teal Transburg as well as star slugger and second baseman Sophia Fuller.

This year’s squad is under new leadership with Chugiak alumna Michelle Strange at the helm, taking over for longtime head coach Jim Huber. The Mustangs are also being propelled by a much younger group of key contributors.

“This is a team that is filled with different players in different positions but is working together to accomplish things,” Strange said. “At the beginning of the season, I think there were some growing pains with individuals getting used to each other in positions that were filled by those upperclassmen last year.”


There are only three seniors, and the only one who sees significant playing time is Megan Traxinger. The lone junior is Yanessa Rodriguez, who is also a team captain. Other than that, the team is made up of underclassmen, notably standout freshman pitcher Torri Jolin.

“She has really blossomed and really stepped into that role and taken the reins and made it what it is right now,” Strange said of Jolin.

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.