That was a nice opening, first hit, first at-bat to kind of give us the little cushion to then focus on our defense and let our pitcher focus. Knowing that she has a little cushion really helped. —Jentry Jo Johnson, Copper Hills head softball coach
TAYLORSVILLE — It doesn’t matter what team shows up to play Copper Hills because the Grizzlies battle the same foe no matter who occupies the opposing dugout.
“Our focus has been just get better every single day,” said Copper Hills head coach Jentry Jo Johnson after the Grizzlies earned a 2-0 victory against fourth-ranked Riverton in Tuesday’s 5A quarterfinals. “That’s it. Whatever it might be, the only thing I tell the girls is to be ourselves every day. If we have errors or strike-outs, it is just to focus on what we can control, what we can do, and in that, it’s a mission to beat ourselves every day.”
That strategy has paid off as the Grizzlies are playing their best softball when it counts most. Tuesday’s game couldn’t have started any better for the Grizzlies as lead-off batter senior Dani Hamilton picked the perfect time for the first home run of her career.
“I thought it was a pop-up,” said the left fielder. “I thought I was going to be out. I was just looking to get on base. It felt so great. I was running around the bases probably smiling like an idiot.”
That run gave the Grizzlies’ defense a little extra confidence against a team they’d split with in a pair of pre-season meetings.
“That was nice,” Johnson said of the home run. “That was a nice opening, first hit, first at-bat to kind of give us the little cushion to then focus on our defense and let our pitcher focus. Knowing that she has a little cushion really helped.” The Grizzlies relied on sophomore Payten Davies, who earned eight strike-outs and only allowed two hits against a talented Riverton offense.
Johnson said the biggest difference between the regular season and the playoffs is confidence.
“That’s it,” she said. “The reinforcing it everyday, the having had practices and not letting them quit up until we’re done, the feeding them with confidence every single day, the telling them they’re great, and I think we’ve been in a lot of pressure situations where the younger players have had to step up and make the big play.”
She said consistency is the key to the team’s growing confidence.
She pointed to sophomore Paige Watts, who bats ninth for the Grizzlies, hitting a single with two outs that allowed Emily Sweet to score the team’s second run.
“I just feel like we’re more confident because we know we have a good connection with each other,” said Watts. “We know each other’s strength and weaknesses.”
She said the more they succeed, the more they see what their coaches have always seen in them. The sophomore second baseman said it’s focusing on the small details that have given the young players faith in their own abilities against the state’s best teams.
“We worked on the little things a lot more than we usually do,” Watts said. “Now that we know we can get that far, we just want to get (the title).”
The Grizzlies will take on Bingham, a team Copper Hills beat in the pre-season.
“From here on out there are only good teams left,” said Johnson, who expects every contest to be close. “Once you get to the complex, anything could happen.”