2A softball playoffs: Big bats, critical play help San Juan advance
SPANISH FORK — A lot of hitters stand in the box hoping just to manage a base hit.
The offensive philosophy of the second-ranked San Juan Broncos, however, is a little bit more ambitious.
"If you're going to swing, you should swing hard," said junior Justin Hutchins after the Broncos defeated fifth-ranked Millard 8-7 in eight innings to advance to the 2A softball quarterfinals on Friday at the Spanish Fork Softball Complex. "At least that's what everyone always tells us."
Hutchins hit a home run in the fifth inning, one of four for San Juan, and admits she might be trying to best sophomore pitcher Tatiana Su'e Su'e, who owns 14 home runs this season, including one in the bottom of the seventh that tied the game and forced an extra-inning showdown.
"We're battling back and forth," she said smiling.
And then senior Brooke Lyman, who also had a home run, as well as a double and three RBIs, added, "And I'm just trying to keep up."
Millard scored first thanks to Cheryl Stevenson getting on base with a double and then pitcher Meagan Dearden's single sending her home. The Broncos responded, as they usually do, with some power hitting. Lead-off hitter L'Sha Eldredge started the scoring with a home run. Presley Mainard, left fielder, got on base thanks to a Millard fielding error, and then Lyman's home run scored both of them, giving the Broncos a 3-1 advantage.
The teams went back and forth with smart, and often powerful, hitting, and both teams overcame some fielding miscues.
And while it was the offense of both teams that put on a show in what turned out to be the most exciting first round game Thursday evening, it was defense that ended up winning the game for the Broncos.
With a runner on second because of the international tie-break rule, second baseman Eldredge caught a line drive and stepped on the bag to end the Eagles' eight-inning at bat with a double play.
"That really turned the whole mood around," said senior Kellie Palmer, who'd gone 0-3 when she came to bat in the bottom of the eighth with speedy Lexus Lathum on second base.
Her coach told her to bunt, and warned her not to bite on anything below the knees.
"But she likes them low," said Hutchins with a grin. "She's a golfer."
Palmer laid down a perfect bunt that was mishandled by Millard and led to an overthrow at first base, allowing Lathum to score and end the game.
Broncos coach Craig Swenson acknowledged being nervous but said the four home runs weren't a shock.
"We've been hitting the ball hard," he said, pointing out their team total of 42 home runs so far this season.
He praised his entire team, and said he was surprised the Eagles managed to earn 10 hits off of Su'e Su'e. The Broncos also finished with 10 hits against Dearden. "She's been a work horse all year, not only pitching but hitting, as well," Swenson said.They are talented athletes, he said, who also put in the practice it takes to be great.
"These girls come to practice every day and work their butts off," he said. Both coach and players admitted that an extra-inning thriller in the second game of the tournament may help them as they take on third-ranked Enterprise Friday afternoon.
"I think it's just kind of a wake-up call," he said.
Added Lyman, "We knew they'd be good, but we didn't expect this. I think we were a little too relaxed."
Hutchins admitted that beating North Sevier by the 15-run rule in three innings may have allowed a little complacency to set in.
"I was tense," she said. "I think this will help us."
Lyman acknowledged the depth of this year's field as four of the five ranked teams square off Friday at 2 p.m. — top-ranked Manti will face second-ranked San Juan and fourth-ranked South Summit will play No. 3 Enterprise.
"Tomorrow will be a tough day," said Lyman. "It's going to be a great day if people want to watch some great softball games. It's going to be insane."