SALT LAKE CITY — There is a common theme found in all five of the Deseret News softball MVPs — versatility. All five MVPs excelled both at the plate and in the circle, helping their teams in more ways than one. All five players helped their team to state championships.
This year’s MVPs as picked by the Deseret News are Herriman’s Libby Parkinson, West’s Mikala Ulibarri, Tooele’s Attlyn Johnston, Grantsville’s Maddie Peterson and Enterprise’s Allie Laub.
Libby Parkinson, Herriman
Herriman pitcher Libby Parkinson had a good season heading into the state tournament but, as the great ones do, she stepped up her game in the playoffs en route to the Mustangs’ second straight 6A championship. Parkinson shined in Herriman’s last two games of the tournament — a wild 10-7 comeback win over Copper Hills in the semifinals and a 9-3 win over Layton in the 6A championship game. After not hitting a home run in the tournament, Parkinson hit one in both games, along with being the winning pitcher.
“When it came to state, when we played Copper Hills and then when we played Layton, she was finally like, ‘I can’t end my career without a home run (in the state tournament that year)’ so she decided that she was going to get one, and she did,” Herriman head coach Heidi McKissick said.
Parkinson’s ability to lock down in key games shined through during the back-to-back championship run.
“She is a gamer. She’s very friendly and very outgoing with her teammates, but when you put her between the lines, she’s pretty much a gamer. She wants to win and do the best she can, always,” McKissick said.
Throughout the playoffs, Parkinson’s teammates look to her to lead, and she did.
“She’s been a leader since probably her junior year. We’ve counted on her, definitely, for the last three years more than anything. She leads by example and she also helps her teammates and lifts them up easily,” McKissick said. “What makes her so valuable is how she makes everyone feel included and that she knows that it’s more of a team sport than just an individual sport.”
Parkinson finished the 2019 season batting .418 with seven home runs and 22 intentional walks. She won 16 games as a pitcher and struck out 97 batters. She will attend Salt Lake Community College on a softball scholarship.
Mikala Ulibarri, West
One of the key pieces in West’s miracle run to the 5A championship, which required the Panthers to come out of the one-loss bracket and win three games in the same day, was Mikala Ulibarri. Ulibarri showed incredible stamina during the three-contest afternoon, throwing every pitch for all three games.
Being able to withstand three straight games of pitching was the result of a lot of hard work that happened in the offseason and during the season that not a lot of people could see.
“Her work ethic, when it came to her pitching. For the first three years, we really just focused on her pitching, because she was our No. 1. Last year, saw a little bit of her hitting. This year, I just cut her loose and she was an important part of our offense as well, as much as our defense,” West head coach Keith Lopati said.
The monumental moment of Ulibarri’s high school career — one that included two state championships and three region titles — was when Ulibarri got the final strikeout in a 17-4 win over Bountiful to claim the 5A state championship.
“Honestly, it was the strikeout, the last out of the state championship game, because of the work that she’s put in from the time I’ve had her as a freshman until that last pitch. She’s had a rocky road from her freshman year up until that point, and to see her finish her high school career off with a strikeout is only fitting for everything she’s done,” Lopati said.
Lopati described Ulibarri as a "silent assassin" who works hard and does exactly what is asked of her.
Ulibarri finished with a 19-1 record in the circle and a 1.91 earned run average while also batting .500 at the plate.
Attlyn Johnston, Tooele
Just a sophomore, Attlyn Johnston is making a name for herself after being one of the best players in 4A and leading her team to a 4A state championship in just her second year of high school.
Johnston was the first one to practice and the last one to leave, and that work ethic paid off in a big way during the 2019 season.
“Attlyn is the type of person who is never going to settle for being mediocre … She’s also a leader on the field and that shows. She’s played with these girls for a while now and she picks them up and she allows them to pick her up when she’s struggling. She has a fun personality, but also a go-getter personality. She wants to be successful and she wants her team to succeed as well,” Tooele head coach Marissa Lowry said.
The maturity that Johnston shows — rare for someone at such a young age — was part of the reason she has been so successful and has been a leader on her team.
“From her freshman year to her sophomore year, I’ve seen her grow up a lot. When she’s struggling, I’ve seen her rely more on her teammates this last year to help her get through those hard times. She’s been really motivating to her teammates as well. I’ve seen her grow up and mature just from her freshman to sophomore year. I think she learned a lot from her freshman campaign, I think she was very successful, but I think that she knew that she wanted to win a state championship, so she knew what she needed to get done in order to do that,” Lowry said.
Johnston finished the year with just a 0.448 earned run average, striking out a total of 288 batters.
Maddie Peterson, Grantsville
Maddie Peterson, like the rest of the MVPs, is a true double threat — both in the circle and at the plate.
In the batters’ box, Peterson set the tone for the rest of the team, batting .473 from the leadoff spot. She boasted a .516 on-base percentage, which helped give her teammates confidence that they could hit whatever pitcher Grantsville was facing.
“She was our leadoff hitter and she’s such a great hitter. Her average speaks for itself. If she could be on base, lead off with a double or whatever, the rest of the girls knew that coming behind her that they could hit this pitcher, too. It didn’t matter who we were playing, if Maddie led off with a decent hit, then it took a lot of pressure off the rest of the girls. Same with defensively, if she could handle it at the mound, then there was a little less pressure on defense,” Grantsville head coach Heidi Taylor said.
In the circle, Peterson was just as dominant, posting a 0.913 earned run average.
Maybe Peterson’s best moment pitching-wise came against Union in the quarterfinals of the one-loss bracket. Needing to stave off elimination, Peterson pitched one-run ball as Grantsville held on to win 2-1 in eight innings. Grantsville would go on to win the 3A state championship.
“She pitched a great game against Union. She did a fantastic job against Union, but she did a fantastic job the whole tournament. I don’t know if I could pick out just one moment for her. She’s one of those people that works hard and you can see the fruits of their labor. It’s fun to watch,” Taylor said.
Allie Laub, Enterprise
Enterprise cruised through the 2A state tournament unscathed, not losing a single game, and a big part of that was thanks to Allie Laub.
Laub’s leadership was apparent all season as she played third base and pitched.
“Allie is very passionate about the game of softball. She’s always willing to stay after practice, whether it be hitting or pitching. She gets along great with her teammates, she’s very encouraging and positive on and off the field,” Enterprise head coach Katye Jones said. “Definitely a leader. She was very versatile in the fact that she could play multiple positions. She could pitch, she played third for us, play a little bit of shortstop, she could hit from both sides of the plate. If we needed a bunt, she would lay down a bunt for us. If we needed a hit, she’d hit for us. She was a leader because anywhere we put her she was willing to play that position and willing to step up and do what she needed to do for the team.”
Jones’ favorite moment when she saw Laub show leadership was during a routine practice.
“Our practice was kind of going a little slow and nobody was really into practice, so I pulled her aside and said, ‘Allie, I need you to start talking. If you start talking, all of the other girls will start talking and they’ll pick it up.’ She just didn’t say a word to any of the players, she just started talking and encouraging the other girls, and sure enough, it was contagious and all of the other girls started talking as well and our practice finished off being great,” Jones said.
Laub had a 1.75 earned run average in the circle during the state tournament, finishing with a .417 batting average and a .533 on-base percentage.