Senior Lillian Vallejo has grown into bigger role on softball field for Cheyenne East

Apr. 3—CHEYENNE — Lillian Vallejo has made a slow and steady ascent into a role all athletes aspire to.

The Cheyenne East senior was a bottom-of-the-order hitter and saw sporadic innings in the pitcher's circle as a freshman. Vallejo's batting improved and her innings pitched also increased over her sophomore and junior campaigns.

Now, Vallejo is the top-ranked Thunderbirds leadoff hitter and has tossed their second-most innings entering Tuesday afternoon's doubleheader with Cheyenne South.

"She's been a work in progress over her career," East coach Adam Galicia said. "We talked going into last season about how she was going to have to build up and become someone we could really count on in the circle this year because we knew Jaylyn (Christensen) was graduating.

"The biggest thing we had to work on was her mental approach. She used to be so hard on herself and really get down on herself and one negative would turn into two or three. Being able to have a positive outlook on herself is so important."

Naturally, Vallejo was excited to hear that her coaches expected her to have this role during her senior season. The prospect of it was also a bit nerve-wracking.

"I like to be the person who's at bat with two outs and we need someone to come through with a hit," she said. "But the thought of filling Jaylyn's shoes was terrifying. She's so amazing, but it was still really nice to hear that my coaches thought me of that way."

Vallejo's new mental approach was tested early during her first pitching start this spring.

She retired the first two Laramie hitters she faced with relative ease before Emily Sirdoreus reached on an error. Vallejo got a two-strike count on cleanup hitter Brooklyn McKinney before the umpire mistakenly awarded McKinney first base on the next pitch outside the strike zone.

Both teams showed the umpire they had a 2-2 count and McKinney was sent back into the batter's box.

Vallejo fanned her on the next pitch.

"In the past, she might have gotten flustered and walked that girl," Galicia said. "Now, she knows everything's not going to be perfect, but she has to keep battling. She has the right mentality, and things aren't bothering her. She's in a great place."

Vallejo entered Tuesday with a 3-0 record in the circle. Her 16 innings pitched were second-most on East's roster behind junior Rylee Stephenson's 17. Vallejo had struck out 16 hitters against 13 walks and had a 6.13 earned-run average.

"When the other team gets a couple runners on, I've started to remind myself to calm down because I have the best defense behind me and they're going to make a play," Vallejo said. "Last year, I would have been so anxious and would have given up hit, walks and a couple runs.

"This year, I'm able to lock in and focus. We had the lead, so it was easier to relax in that situation. But I also know the defense has my back."

Vallejo also has increased her fastball velocity to nearly 60 miles per hour, which mixes well with three breaking pitches.

Vallejo batted a career-best .429 (24-of-56) as a sophomore. Her average dipped to .320 (24-for-75) during East's state runner-up 2023 season, but that was still an improvement over the .292 (14-of-48) she batted as a freshman.

There's still a lot of softball to be played this season, but Vallejo is on pace to post a career-best batting average. She was batting .475 (10-for-21) heading into this week, which was third on the roster behind returning all-state selections Aleah Brooks and Gracie Oswald.

Just as importantly, Vallejo is getting on base 54% of the time and setting the table for Oswald and Brooks, who have 14 and 10 RBI, respectively.

"We don't have a true leadoff hitter on our roster, but (Vallejo) is hitting well enough and seeing the ball well enough that she can go deep in the count," Galicia said. "That's what I like from my leadoff hitters. I want them to be patient and drive a pitch they like when they see it. She's disciplined at the plate, and is our best hitter for that spot."

Vallejo takes the leadoff role seriously.

"I have to be ready when I get into the box and really pay attention to what I'm seeing," she said. "I have to be able to give my teammates a chance to see the other team's pitcher and bring a good scouting report back to the dugout. I used to listen to what other hitters said about the pitcher, so I know how helpful that can be.

"It's a different role than what I've been used to, but I really like that change."

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at or 307-633-3137. Follow him on X at @jjohnke.