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(Photo credit: T.J. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News)TAYLORSVILLE — It was everything a state championship should be and more.
The 4A state softball tournament culminated in a game of the ages, one people will be talking about for years to come.
It all came down to Tooele and Spanish Fork after the Dons defeated Lehi in the final game of the one-loss bracket. And then it was a battle that showed just how much heart both teams had as comeback after comeback held the crowd breathless. In the end it was the Tooele Buffaloes that finally came through on a spectacular catch by sophomore Brooke Slade, a catch that changed the outcome of the 9-8 Tooele victory.
"I died a thousand deaths. It was an amazing game. All of a sudden things got a little crazy in the last couple of innings. They just kept coming and out girls never quit," said Tooele coach Steve Snow, whose team won its ninth title overall and its sixth in the last eight years of being in the championship game.
It all started very simply. The team that was in the championship bracket knocked out three runs in the top of the first, completed by a home run to center field by Whitney Holt. They tacked on another in the top of the third to give themselves a 4-0 lead. Everything looked secure with Mattie Snow in the circle taking control. But everything started getting a little shaky when the Dons scored a single run in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a pair of Tooele errors and a single by Lyndsey Healey.
Things got even crazier as the Dons picked up four more runs in the bottom of the sixth, and actually snagged a 5-4 lead over the Buffaloes with three singles and another two Tooele errors, starting to get a little confidence that they could possibly send the championship into an extra game.
"There's no quit in these girls," said Spanish Fork coach Don Andrews of his young squad. And the same could be said of every single player that took the field in the championships.
Then it was the Buffaloes turn to steal the lead back and do it in a big way. Three singles, an error, and a double by Slade brought in five more Tooele runs, giving them the 9-5 lead and what looked to be a secure victory..
"They just kept coming, and our girls never quit. I thought that we'd taken a comfortable cushion going into the bottom of the seventh, but with Spanish Fork, nothing's ever safe," said Snow.
The bottom of the seventh was all it took for the Dons to throw terror into the hearts of everyone on the Tooele side of the field and in the stands as they loaded the bases without a single out on a walk and a pair of singles. But they didn't score a run before the Buffaloes secured two outs. Then the pressure started hitting.
The Dons kept putting the ball into play, and the Buffaloes kept bobbling it. Two errors sent home two Spanish Fork runs, and with the bases loaded, Healey was hit by a pitch, bringing home the third run of the inning and getting the Dons to that 9-8 score with the bases still loaded.
"I knew we could do it. I just took deep breaths and told myself that I needed to keep being a leader," pitcher Mattie Snow said of the crazy turns the game took in the final two innings.
And she pitched a fly ball to opposing pitcher Kailey Christensen, who sent it up and into right field. If the ball had dropped, two runs would most likely have scored, and the Dons would have been victorious, but if Slade grabbed the catch, her team would take the title. It all rested on the sophomore's shoulders.
"I wasn't really thinking. I just thought, 'please catch it. Please catch it.' If I miss this, they're going to win the game. It took me a minute, and then I was like, 'oh my gosh I caught it!" said a breathless Slade.
"I didn't know if she was going to make it or not, and when she came up showing ball I jumped up this (miming about three feet) high," said Steve Smith.
The catch gave the Buffaloes the win, but it couldn't take anything away from an incredible Spanish Fork season, and Andrews wasn't about to let his team forget that.
"I'm gonna go congratulate them on a very good tournament," Andrews said of his team. "They had a very good season. They've got a lot of heart. I'm not disappointed at all. We had nobody come back, so our expectations were only to work our guts out and do the best we can."
The best they could ended up being a second place finish in the state, coming in second to only a nine-time champion Tooele team and one ball caught by a sophomore in right field.