Tom Smart, Deseret News
TAYLORSVILLE — Just about the only people who thought the fifth-ranked Copper Hills Grizzlies could upset the top-ranked Weber Warriors were wearing Kelly green and Navy blue.
Fortunately for the Grizzlies, those were the only people who mattered.
"It was such a good game," said Copper Hills head coach Jentry Johnson after the Grizzlies scored on a wild pitch to upset the Warriors 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 5A state softball tournament Tuesday night. "I'm so, so proud of them. From the very get-go, I told the girls, 'We are on a journey. One game is just going to build to the next. If we do the little things, we're building a foundation for the next day, the next game.'"
That journey took Copper Hills to a place the program has never been — the semifinals of the state tournament.
The game was a pitcher's duel with BYU-bound junior McKenna Bull throwing for Weber and cancer survivor and senior leader Shelby Abeyta in the circle for Copper Hills.
"McKenna struck a lot of us out," said Johnson. "But Shelby Abeyta was rock solid in the circle."
Ashley Clayson scored the lone run after getting on base on a single. Emilee Sweet put down a perfect bunt and then beat out the throw. Then another bunt moved Clayson to third. When Weber called a time out to discuss strategy, Johnson told Clayson to be ready to run should any pitch get away from the Warriors' catcher.
"(Bull) had been getting us out all night on the rise ball," said Johnson. "So I told Ashley, 'If one of those balls goes high, you just don't stop.'"
Moments later, that is exactly what happened.
Then Abeyta had to try and contain the prolific Warrior offense.
Clayson, the team's short stop, made a game-saving diving catch and then threw, from her knees, to first base for one of the game's critical outs.
"And Riley Cleverly dug it up," said Johnson. "We're just excited. I told the girls, 'You have to beat the best to be the best.' And Bingham is a great team. So we're just really, really excited about tomorrow."
That's when the Grizzlies will face second-ranked Bingham, a team that beat them early in non-region play.
Bingham had to get past fourth-ranked Taylorsville in the first game 4:30 p..m. game. It looked like pitchers Paige Reimann (Bingham) and Jaycee LeBaron (Taylorsville) were going engage in a pitcher's duel until Reimann helped herself by hitting a solo home run.
"I felt like the kids were a little tight today," said Bingham head coach Mikki Jackson. "That home run helped (Reimann) a lot."
The Miners managed to score two more runs in the fourth inning and then Whitney Littledike hit a home run over the centerfield fence that gave the Miners' the one-run advantage.
The Warriors answered with two runs in the fifth inning as Maddie Cushing's single drove in one run and an error allowed a second to score. With runners on first and second, junior first baseman Cami Mathews came to the plate and smacked a single up the middle.
That scored Karlee Jensen, but then Aliyah Valenzuela got caught in a run down between second and third and became the final out of the game.
For a moment, the rundown made Jackson nervous.
"We had a rundown in 2007, and it is where we lost the game," she said of a throw that was missed when the base runner collided with the Miner player. "But that's the one thing these kids are solid on is being in control of their throws. The rundown usually should be an out."
Jackson said the team became more confident as the game progressed and she suspects they will be a more "settled" squad on Wednesday.
"They've grown into it," said Jackson of how mentally tough the team is. "As their confidence has grown they've gotten stronger and stronger."
Reimann said the experience of playing together for the last two years has given the squad another advantage - chemistry.
"We've just grown together," the junior pitcher said. "We did a lot of work in the fall and we're really bonded."
As for worrying about which heavy hitter is at bat, Reimann said she doesn't.
"I just focus on me and Whit (Littledike)," she said smiling. "I focus on her mitt and throwing the best that I can. That's it."
The two teams will meet at 6:45 p.m. at the Valley Softball Complex.
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