Our team has been in tough situations before, and we have pulled through. Confidence comes from experience, and we have girls that have played since they were 5 years old. That trust in each other builds confidence. —Alexis Oveson, Salem Hills softball team
SALEM — What does a prep softball team that finished second in the state do when it loses 10 seniors responsible for 31 home runs, five triples and 31 doubles from the previous season? How about when it loses a pitcher that went 10-2?
It would be easy to write off this season as a "learning opportunity." The Skyhawks returned two starters from last year’s varsity squad. They have routinely started five sophomores, three of which are in the infield. There are two seniors on the team, one of which is a starter. The head coach, Renae Kinghorn, is only in her second year at the helm.
On the surface, this is a young, inexperienced team. To get back to a high level of competition, the cliché solution is to rebuild, start from scratch, and hope for the best. But that isn’t the way things are at Salem Hills High School — not this year.
The Salem Hills softball team (9-1, 14-3) is in the midst of an extraordinary season, yet is flying under the radar. The Skyhawks currently sit atop Region 8, tied with Provo. After losing to Palo Alto, Nev. and 5A powerhouse Bingham to open the season, the Skyhawks rattled off nine wins in a row. Ever since Salem Hills' third loss of the season — a heartbreaking, extra-innings loss to the Provo Bulldogs on April 11 — the Skyhawks haven't lost, winning five straight.
The Skyhawks haven't just been winning; they've been beating the best. They have beaten Weber, which is currently ranked No. 2 in 5A; Springville, which was then ranked No. 3 in 4A; Spanish Fork, which is currently No. 1 in 3A and Manti, which is currently No. 1 in 2A. They'll also face five-time defending 3A champion Bear River on May 4.
Prior to the Provo loss, the Skyhawks had been ranked third in state in 4A.
“This team doesn’t know how good they are, and that’s a good thing," said Kinghorn. "Our incredible pitching will keep us in any game and we execute well at the plate.”
Pitching is definitely Salem Hills' strong suit. Kirthlyn Bohling, a returning starter from 2012's second-place team, has amassed almost 200 strikeouts, seven shutouts and two perfect games.
“Kirtlyn is such an asset to this team and trusts her defense," sophomore Abbie Tuttle said.
“We are confident because we are playing as a team and for our team, and when we play for each other, we win,” catcher Kalee Simons added.
Bohling says Salem Hills solid defense helps her relax at the mound.
“As a pitcher, I have the most solid defense I’ve ever played with behind me," she said. "It lets me relax and throw my game. I know they have my back."
As a group, Salem Hills has learned early and often how to weather the storms of a grueling schedule, and that has made the Skyhawks stronger. Salem Hills will go for its sixth straight win this afternoon against Springville. The first pitch is at 3:30 p.m.
Here is what other Salem Hills players have to say about their team:
• “I know that I have a good team that can back me up, and we trust each other,” said Kenzie Martin.
• “We know our strengths and what we can accomplish," said Annalee Castleberry.
• We can accomplish things “because we play so well together," said Ashley Whiting.
• “We are disciplined. We work as a team. And no one is more important than anyone else," said Amelia Weight.
• "Whoever coach puts on the field we can trust to do the job," said Ashley Nielson.
• ”We’re not just family on the field, but we are family in school, too. We are doing so well because we have so much team unity. ... We trust each other,” said Tuttle.
• “Our team has been in tough situations before, and we have pulled through," said Alexis Oveson. "Confidence comes from experience, and we have girls that have played since they were 5 years old. That trust in each other builds confidence.”
• Junior third baseman Kenna Davis says the team is confident right now “because we know we can do hard things.”
• “We play well as a team,” said Kenzie Cowden.
• “I know that we are a dang good team and we’ve been in some tough situations and have pulled through," said Tiffany Madsen.
Troy Bohling is the coordinator of school services for Nebo School District. He was previously an assistant principal at Salem Hills High School from 2008-12.