It’s as balanced as I’ve ever seen it. I think there are realistically eight teams that could win it. —Mikki Jackson, Bingham softball head coach
In years past, the strongest softball programs were defined by their dominant pitching.
But this year, most coaches agree that 5A doesn’t have that dominant pitching, which should make for a much more unpredictable playoffs.
“It’s as balanced as I’ve ever seen it,” said Bingham head coach Mikki Jackson. “I think there are realistically eight teams that could win it.”
Despite the fact that there may not be a pitcher who can just shut down a team, that doesn’t mean the strength of a team’s pitchers won’t be critical.
“Pitching is going to help, but I think there are so many good hitters out there right now, a team that is weak in defense will be vulnerable,” said Jackson.
It will also be more important than ever that teams manage to stay in the winner’s bracket.
“It will be helpful (to play fewer games) because I think a lot of teams don’t have pitching depth,” she said. “There are some really good pitchers, but depth is a concern for most teams.”
The Miners are a perennial powerhouse, and this year they enter the tournament ranked third. Like nearly all of the teams in 5A, they’ve had moments of inconsistency, but they boast one of the most talented and toughest pitchers in Paige Reimann. She’s helped by Shea Ibrahim, who has 10 doubles and a home run this season, as well as Tori Glasker and Chelsea Latu.
Top-ranked Viewmont earned the region championship without a league loss. The Vikings have just two losses — Copper Hills and Alta — and boast a tremendously strong offense.
The team has two players with 12 home runs each — Caitlyn Larsen and Riley Tyteca, while pitcher Eliza Thornley (19-2) has been solid as the team’s only thrower. She’s thrown every inning for the Vikings this season. They open the tournament by hosting a tough Region 1 team — Syracuse (8-11).
Davis is ranked second and suffered just a single loss in region play. The Darts fell to defending 5A state champion Weber in the first round of region play.
“It’s a different year compared with past years,” said Zachman. “We’re just going to be prepared as best we can. We have high hopes, high aspirations, and we’ll hopefully continue to ride that wave.”
The Darts open the tournament with Kearns (8-11) Tuesday, and are led by pitcher Cheyenne Norton, who owns a 13-4 record. Payton Yerke, Breezy Roth and Kayla Pusey are all key contributors to the squad this year.
Riverton is ranked fourth and relies on two pitchers this year. Whitney Larsen owns an 8-0 record, while Courtney Platt is 8-4. The team is also very capable at bat with Kyrae Kogianes leading the team with 11 home runs, three doubles and a triple. Alysa Linford, Camree Wartman and Morgan Varoz are also key contributors, especially offensively.
The Silverwolves start the tournament with Brighton, a team that just defeated Region 3 champion Alta.
Defending 5A state champion Weber is ranked fifth and has struggled at times despite returning class MVP pitcher McKenna Bull. The Warriors open the tournament with Hunter, a team that at 14-9, could easily pull off an upset.
While Alta, Fremont and Taylorsville could all be in the mix for top honors, the best first round game should be Lehi (17-8) at Copper Hills (19-8).
The Pioneers rely on pitchers Sydney White (8-4) and Kaitlyn Oberg (3-2), as well as Stephani Zimmerman (2-0). Carley White leads the offense with seven extra base hits.
The Grizzlies have four pitchers, but Payten Davies (9-3) and Rashelle North (5-2) get most of the time in the circle. The team’s offense is led by Ashley Clayson (12 extra base hits), Emilee Sweet (five extra base hits) and Hayliann Gatten (five extra base hits).
Both winners and losers play again Thursday, after which the tournament moves to Valley Softball Complex next Tuesday.