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SPANISH FORK — What better time for a trick play that is usually used to initiate freshmen than the bottom of the 10th inning of the 2A state championship softball game?
"I learned it years ago when I was playing," said Grand head coach Stephanie Cluff after the Red Devils won a 3-2 thriller against South Summit on Saturday at Spanish Fork Softball Complex. "You can only pull it out once in a while. We had nothing to lose at that point. We wanted to finish it."
The game had been a stand-off, with neither team scoring until international tie-break rules allowed them each to start with a base runner at second. But each team could only manage one run at that.
So when South Summit's first batter came to the plate in the 10th inning, Cluff called for the trick play.
"I didn't even really hear it at first," said Grand pitcher Shelby Dalton, who actually faked the overthrow to second base and then tagged the South Summit runner out, who was hoping to capitalize on what looked like a ridiculous throwing error. "I thought she wasn't going to go. I thought it was worthless because it didn't work."
Dalton, who earned 13 strikeouts in the win, said she heard the Wildcats' third base coach telling the runner to stay, and at first she did as she was told. Grand's second baseman and shortstop both dove as if trying to stop the errant throw, as the center fielder pretended to chase the ball to the fence. Then Dalton began running toward the outfield, and that move confused the base runner just enough to entice her to leave the base.
Dalton tagged her out and then went on to strike out the batter. The third out was a line drive caught by the first baseman.
"We knew it was probably going to come down to that," said Lillian McKinlay-Jones, the team's catcher. "We knew we had that in our back pocket. And doing it (and getting the out) was a huge confidence boost."
It was especially helpful to Dalton, who doesn't like to worry about a runner on second base.
"I don't like having runners on base," said Dalton, who was the 2A Tournament MVP. "Especially with no outs. It makes me nervous."
The game was a nail-biter, featuring solid pitching, great defensive plays — including three players tagged out at home — and very aggressive base running. Both teams had to work hard to get to the final game. Grand had to beat South Summit on Friday afternoon and then knocked off region rival and top-ranked 2A powerhouse, San Juan, on Friday night.
"It's always been a mind game with us and San Juan," said Cluff. "We just talked about the fact that we're the same girls. But we did change their name (for Friday's game). I think they were the Eagles when we were playing them."
South Summit was sent to the one-loss bracket Friday afternoon by the Red Devils, and then had to beat San Juan on Saturday morning, just for a chance at revenge against Grand and the title.
"It's been an unbelievable season," said Wildcats head coach Cody Bowen. "We've had four practices outside all year. We've had snow (all spring). We do everything in a gym, a batting cage or the football field. This team has been unbelievable."
The Wildcats earned a region title (without a single loss), and with Saturday's second-place finish, they take home the school's first state tournament trophy.
"I think it's incredible what they've done this year," he said. "(Dalton) is a great pitcher. My pitcher (Kenzie Woolstenhulme) went toe to toe with her."
Both coaches praised their seniors for their leadership and work ethic.
"We had great leadership and team chemistry and, as a coach, you can't really teach that," said Cluff.
McKinlay-Jones said she was on the varsity team that took second four years ago.
"It's nice to come back and take the title," she said. And as for the trick play, she was thrilled they finally got to throw that out in a game.
"We like to do it on our freshmen," she said, grinning. "They don't know what's going on yet."
And while the title is the pinnacle of their season, McKinlay-Jones said beating San Juan along the way gives them bragging rights to go with that gold trophy.
"That was the sweetest victory of all," she said.
2A all-tournament team
MVP: Shelby Dalton, Grand
Lillian McKinlay-Jones, Grand
Miranda Gill, Grand
Miranda Hatch, Grand
McKenzie Woolstenhulme, South Summit
Lexie Reidhead, South Summit
Haulsey Larsen, South Summit
Kendell Wilde, South Summit
Briona Laws, San Juan
Felicia Flavel, San Juan
Abby Bayles, San Juan
Jolene Kirk, San Juan
Janae Humphries, Enterprise
Capri Christensen, Enterprise
Janessa Bowring, Monticello
Shelby Sheriff, Millard