SPANISH FORK — Through the better part of six innings, Tooele's softball team was playing to a typical pitcher's duel with Beaver River.
With one swing on a two-out pitch, Emma Higley changed everything.
Higley's three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth helped the top-seeded Buffaloes pull away for good en route to a 5-0 win over the No. 2 Bears in the first game of the best-of-three championship series at the 4A state softball tournament at Spanish Fork Complex.
Winning pitcher Attlyn Johnston scattered three hits with three strikeouts over seven scoreless innings for the Buffaloes (28-3), and also helped herself by hitting 2-of-3 with an RBI double and two runs scored.
"The last time we played, it was a similar situation — two runs going into the sixth inning," Higley said. "When I hit it, I was relieved for my team and for Attlyn, so she could pitch like she knows how to pitch."
Ayden Fitch went 2-for-3 with two runs scored for Tooele, which will look to close out its first title since 2019 Saturday at 12 p.m. MT.
"We still have to come back tomorrow, and Bear River is going to come swinging for us," Tooele coach Marissa Lowry. "We have to stay consistent and we have to play our game.
"Bear River is a great team, with great players and coached by great coaches. That's what we're expecting going into tomorrow."
Johnston helped herself with a one-out RBI double in the bottom of the second, then sent her speed-up runner around two hitters later on Garcia's RBI single.
The Tooele senior gave up two hits in the first three innings, but kept them off the base paths and allowed the Bears past second just once until the fifth inning. While the battery got the credit — on offense and defense — the Buffaloes also got a stellar defensive performance, particularly middle infielders Katelyn Hogan and Paige Rydalch.
"They always talk about not getting a lot of balls, so it was fun to see them field and step up big for our team," Lowry said. "They've played with Attlyn since they were little, so it's just fun to see everything come together — things we've been working on all season."
Johnston allowed three different runners in scoring position in the fifth, including loading the bases with two outs. But the Buffaloes didn't allow a run in the inning with a sacrifice bunt, getting another out at home (while catcher Higley took a slide into the chest), then forced out on a bases-loaded single attempt to keep the shutout.
Higley gave the Buffaloes the room they needed, blasting a two-out, three-run homer over the fence in left centerfield to give Tooele a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth.
"I kind of felt it go right off my bat," Higley said. "It just felt really good, with solid contact. I just knew it was over."
Kate Dahle scattered seven hits with four strikes in the complete-game effort for the Bears (25-6). Kortnie Burton went 1-for-2 with a walk for Bear River, who left nine runners on base.
"It was really important for us to get this first win," Higley said. "I think it was really important to stay calm, and that will help us tomorrow, too."