4A softball: Ridgeline shuts out Desert Hills in Game 1 of championship series

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PROVO — Nobody would have guessed Brielle Gardiner had never been in this moment, pitching in Game 1 of the 4A softball state championship Friday afternoon at BYU.

Her team had plenty of experience — and the memory of a year ago — to back her up, though.

Gardiner threw a complete game shutout, scattering three hits with seven strikeouts as top-seeded Ridgeline topped Desert Hills 5-0 in the opening game of the 4A state championship at Gail Miller Field.

Freshman nerves? What nerves?

"I'm so glad that I'm not hitting off her. I'm glad she's on my team," said Ridgeline infielder Ellie Pond, who went 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBI. "If I saw her in the circle with her glasses on, just bobbing her head like she does, then I might crap my pants. I'd tell my coach I was sick that day.

"She is so talented. She's quite literally insane," Pond added with a laugh. "But I love her. She's a cute girl, and I love her a lot."

The freshman with a 0.8 ERA has been clutch for Ridgeline all season, with 239 strikeouts, 47 walks, and 17 earned runs in 30 games who added an RBI during the two-run opening inning.

"Bri has pitched in her sixth state game; I think she's got more base hits herself than she's given up. That's pretty amazing as a freshman," Ridgeline coach Michael Anderson said of his freshman ace with a 68 mph fastball and a 52 mph change-up. "She's helping herself, but we trust her bat at No. 2 in the order. That kid can hit to all fields and do what she needs to do there."

Pond did plenty, as well, going 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBI as the Riverhawks (29-1) got out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back.

Abigail King and Eva Howell each added a double for Ridgeline, which pounded out nine hits.

"Today was the freaking Ellie Pond show, was it not?" Anderson said. "That kid came up and hit two riseballs as far as you can hit a ball, 20 feet out on a college field. In the biggest moment, that kid showed up to play today. She came in amped up, controlled, and made three plays defensively that put her on the map. I'm super proud of the way she handled things."

The 5-foot-7 senior holds a key memory that has propelled Ridgeline to its tour of force through the 2024 season. A year ago at this time, the Riverhawks took a 3-2 win off Bear River in the first game of the 4A championship series.

But the Bears responded with two wins Saturday, including a 12-3 rout in the winner-take-all third game to keep Ridgeline from a repeat state title.

So the job's not done.

"It makes us want to fight more," Pond said. "We don't want to re-live that moment. Last year was tough, winning the first one and then giving up the other two. We don't want to let that happen again.

"If you keep continuing to fight, good things come from that."

Jojo Sparks had a triple for Desert Hills (25-5), which was making its first championship game appearance in program history.


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