There’s plenty of reason for Southern Utah residents to be excited for the 3A state softball tournament. For starters, the event is being held at Little Valley Fields starting today at 2 p.m. and features three Region 9 teams — Snow Canyon, Canyon View and Pine View — still very much in the mix after one round of play.
Secondly, the Warriors and Falcons each won their first game, keeping them on the right side of the winner’s column.
Could Region 9’s top two teams be on a collision course for the semifinals?
“I think it would be awesome,” Falcons star Savanah Eckhardt said of the possible matchup. “If we represent Region 9 like that, it would show the whole state how tough our division is.”
The Falcons entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, trailing only the Warriors with a 9-3 region record, and will face Spanish Fork today at 2 p.m. on Field 3. They might’ve caught up with their southern rivals had injuries not plagued them early in the season.
“We had ups and downs all year,” Falcons coach Kyle DeLange said. “We’ve had our fair share of injuries, but we were still able to come together as a team.”
The costliest setback came when Eckhardt hurt her elbow in February, an injury that required surgery and six weeks of recovery time. She didn’t take the field until April after watching her team go 3-7 in her absence.
“It was a tough decision for her to do the surgery,” DeLange said. “She could’ve probably not done it and been okay and waited until summer. It was difficult for her to give up her starting role as pitcher or at first base and watch younger girls take her position.
“But she’s a gamer. Once she got the release to go, she was out there after practice each night practicing even harder.”
Josie Platt, a 5-foot-6 junior, was forced to incur more responsibility with her teammate sidelined immediately following the basketball season. The second week of softball saw her throw six games in three days.
“She had to step up and try to keep things together and try to keep us in competition,” DeLange said. “I can’t say enough about her effort and ability to take up that role. That was huge for our team.”
DeLange has yet to make a decision on whether Platt or Eckhardt will start on the mound against Spanish Fork, a tough opponent that will present a plethora of challenges to either pitcher.
“We know they’re a talented team,” DeLange said of the Dons, who defeated the Falcons 5-4 in an early season tourney. “They have good hitting and pitching. We observed them last Saturday against Union (who they beat 16-1). We know we’re going to have to play really well to compete with them.”
For Canyon View, a return to the state championship — after losing to Bear River in 2011 — would end an otherwise arduous year on a high note.
“We have definitely achieved a lot this season overcoming a lot of adversary,” said Eckhardt, who committed to Black Hills State College in South Dakota. “It’s not state or bust, but we’ll put on a show.”
Snow Canyon’s trip to the top was relatively smoother.
The Warriors finished the season undefeated (12-0 in Region 9, 21-0 overall) and entered the tournament as the proverbial team to beat.
Backed by the strong arm of pitcher Brytni Gurney and perhaps the best batting lineup in the state, a group that totaled 14 home runs, 35 doubles and two triples among them, the Warriors have a clear path to the title game.
A close call against Tooele on Saturday nearly soured their chances.
Trailing 4-3 heading into the final inning, and with two outs, Snow Canyon slugger Mitzi Gates hit a walk-off single that secured a controversial 5-4 win. Controversial because the Warriors felt they had won much earlier off a Sonya Hardy grounder with the bases loaded.
A collision at second base between Snow Canyon’s Natalie Coulam and Tooele’s Trystin Crofts resulted in a lengthy discussion as to whether the ball was dead or not. The verdict ultimately awarded Snow Canyon a run that tied the game 4-4, and then Gates hit the winning shot.
“That was a huge game for us,” head coach Brandyn Sargent said. “Tooele’s pitcher was really good and we were playing kind of scared. Instead of playing to win we were playing not to lose. But hopefully now the jitters are out and we can play our game.”
The Warriors are set to face Payson today at 2 p.m. on Field 1.
Pine View dropped its opening game against Bear River, 3-0, only to clobber Carbon 13-0 to keep its season alive.
The Panthers have a difficult road ahead in the one-loss bracket, needing five wins to make the title game. With heavy hitters Elaine Asassa and Keltee Shelley in the lineup, who combined for 16 home runs on the season, head coach Randy Green feels anything is possible.
“They’ve certainly made a big difference on our team,” he said. “We rely on them, count on them. They’re a big part of what we do.”
Green felt his team played well against Bear River, but just couldn’t quite get the hits needed to pull out the victory. All that’s left now for his team is to keep swinging away and do the best they can.
“I think at this point we’re going to take it one game at a time,” he said.
Pine View will play the loser of the Snow Canyon/Payson game today at 4 p.m. on Field 1.
For more information, including brackets and game times, visit uhsaa.org.