By Andrew Johnson

HOLTON – This year Holton High School has 234 students enrolled in grades 9-12.

That’s the fewest students of any of the six schools in the CSAA Conference Silver Division. Three schools in the conference – Kent City, Morley-Stanwood and Lakeview – all have at least 340 students.

So the fact that the 2019 Holton girls softball team has two returning All-State players, as well as two honorable-mention All-Staters, is remarkable.

It’s a program that consistently produces great players and great teams from a pretty small talent pool.

“It’s huge,” said Holton head coach Kirk Younts, about having so many elite players on his roster. “Some teams never even have one (All-State player). For us to have four is just really special.”

Senior catcher Morgan Murat was the lone All-Stater for Holton in 2018. Senior pitcher/shortstop Haylee Brant (who went 10-2 on the mound and batted .400) and sophomore pitcher/shortstop Kylie Gould (who went 14-2 and batted .474) were both honorable mention selections.

Haylee Brant relaxes before the pitch during Holton’s win over Hesperia in April. Photo/Leo Valdez

If that wasn’t enough talent, the Red Devils also have senior center fielder Kaylee Piper, who was named All-State in 2017 at the shortstop position.

“It’s pretty special,” said Murat, who has been All-State every season of her high school career. “We all grew up playing softball together. We’ve been on the same travel teams and have all been through the same experiences. I think it’s pretty rare to have us all play together that long.”

Those experiences have been pretty successful. They include a Division 4 state semifinal appearance in 2016, a Division 4 state quarterfinal appearance in 2017, and a regional final appearance in 2018.

After nipping at the edges of state glory, the talent-packed Red Devils are eying even bigger things this spring.

They’re off to a great start. They are currently 11-2 overall on the season, with a 7-0 mark in the CSAA Silver Division.

The Red Devils next shot at a trophy will come on Saturday, when they will host the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Tier 2 Softball Tournament. The won the tournament in 2016 and 2017, lost in the finals in 2018, and lost in the semifinals last year.

After that the team will try to nail down its fifth straight conference title, then move on to the Division 4 state tournament.

“They’re hungry,” said Younts, whose team was most recently ranked ninth in the state among Division 4 squads. “They talk about getting back to the final four again and that’s the goal. We know we’ll need a few breaks along the way, because it’s not just about being good, it takes some luck, too.

“Losing last year still stings and they talk about that. I think we can do it. We have the kids in place to do it.”

Holton catcher Morgan Murat. Photo/Leo Valdez

The players also believe they’ve got the talent to make another deep state run, but they also try to remember to take one game at a time.

“We actually talk about it a lot,” said Murat, who will be playing softball at Cornerstone University next year while studying physical therapy. “One of our goals is to get further than in years past. It’s sometimes a little intimidating to try and get back or keep a streak going. We try not to think too much about it and take it one a game at a time, while focusing on what we can do to be better.”

The residents of Holton have taken note of the Red Devils’ softball success over the years, and turn out in strong numbers to support the team.

“I remember freshmen year,” said Murat, who hit .575 last year during her third All-State season. “We’d win a big game like the regional and the whole town would be lining the streets. Everyone is there and everybody is at the games. It’s just an amazing feeling to have that much support. It’s like if we win, they win.”

The Red Devils have star power and plenty of experience this season, with six starters back from last year’s squad. They also have talented underclassmen to top off the attack, including two sophomores and a freshman.

In an early-season game against Hesperia, freshman Gianna Reed and sophomore Maddie Bossett each drove in three runs. Sophomore Kennedy Greene has also played a big role for the squad.

“That’s awesome,” said Murat about the younger players’ contributions. “We’re all really supportive of each other, and I’ll take the younger girls advice just as much as they take mine. It’s kind of like age doesn’t matter because we all just want to get better.”

So does the potent Holton roster have what it takes to finally win that elusive state title?

“It would be awesome,” Younts said. “Whenever a run is going on at Holton, whether it’s football, baseball or any sport, the community is always behind us. It would draw major excitement. To win something like that would be huge for everyone in the community.”