I knew we had the potential towards the beginning when we started winning, but I don’t think anybody really expected this from us, which I love. —Kaylee Simons, Salem Hills softball
TAYLORSVILLE — Call it redemption, vindication or simply validation if you want. But this could be the start of something big.
Salem Hills High School has only been around for five years, but the Skyhawks have already built a powerhouse prep softball program. And on Thursday, a year after losing in the 4A state title game, they took home the first state championship of any kind in the Utah County school’s brief but impressive history with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Box Elder at the Valley Complex.
Junior right-hander Kirtlyn Bohling pitched a gritty complete-game victory, allowing six hits and one earned run. And her defense, led by slick sophomore shortstop Abbie Tuttle, did its job to turn back a strong Box Elder ball club that lost only three ballgames all season long — including two to Salem Hills in the state tournament.
What’s more, the Skyhawks’ starting lineup has only one senior, catcher Kaylee Simons, while the rest of them are just juniors and sophomores. So they’ll definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the future, with another strong shot at a state title again next year.
“I mean, people should be a little bit nervous, but don’t put that in the paper,” said Salem Hills coach Renae Kinghorn. “We’re gonna be tough; we are tough. “I am grateful to coach such talent. I wish that it had anything to do with me, but I just have to get out of their way and let them play. They come to me with incredibly good skills and I just have to tell them that they can do it, and they’re strong.”
Indeed they are. With Bohling in the circle making it tough for opposing teams’ batters to get on base, and Tuttle and Co. doing their thing defensively, the Skyhawks (24-3) make it mighty difficult for teams to scratch out many runs against them.
Salem Hills tied it at 1-1 in its half of the first when Tuttle reached base on a fielder’s choice, advanced on Bohling’s single to center and scored on Ashley Whiting’s RBI single to left.
It remained deadlocked until the fourth inning, when Simons sliced a lead-off triple into the right-field corner. Two batters later, Kenzie Martin’s ground-out brought home speed-up runner Courtney DeGraw with the go-ahead run and a 2-1 lead.
Then in the fifth inning, Tuttle led off with a towering drive over the center-field fence to make it 3-1.
“I had been hitting all game, so I was like, ‘I just need another hit to get this thing started,’ ” Tuttle said of her big at-bat. “That came out and, I mean, it was perfect. I kinda had that feeling (that it was gone), and it felt good.
“We’ve got five sophomores starting. They said this would be the rebuilding year, but we definitely proved that wrong and we’re the same team next year, too, so we’re definitely ready to come back.
“It feels so good, especially being the first in school history, it does feel good,” Tuttle said.
“That was huge,” Simons said of Tuttle’s solo shot. “Abbie has been so clutch on our team and a great defender, and we really couldn’t do it without her. She’s amazing.”
Then in the seventh, the Bees threatened again when Blacker, who was 3-for-4 and reached base in all four of her at-bats, smacked a one-out single and moved to second on an intentional walk to Molly Horne.
“Molly (Horne), their catcher, she is dangerous, she is absolutely dangerous,” Kinghorn said. “And so I knew she could win the game with one swing, and I was terrified that she was going to, so we just had to walk her for sure. I have so much respect for that hitter, good night, all of their hitters are so good.”
Then Bohling buckled down, getting the Bees’ next two batters to fly out, as Tuttle squeezed the final pop-up to clinch the title-taking triumph.
“Just a little bit, yeah, I was stressed out a lot,” Bohling said of the Bees’ last-gasp comeback bid. “I trusted my teammates if I got ’em a ball in the air or a ball on the ground, they were gonna make a play and they were gonna get an out and we were gonna win. I had to put my desires aside and let my team do the work, because I trusted them that they would get it done.
“Last year, the heartbreak of not winning was tough, but just knowing that we clutched that title today was incredible, incredible.
“Not very many girls played last year because we’re a really young team,” Bohling said, “but coming into this we knew we had the talent and the legacy to keep up and we just went to work.”
With such a young squad, not many people expected the Skyhawks to make a repeat appearance in the championship game this year. But they quickly jelled and played beyond their years.
“This is sweet,” Simons said. “I don’t think anybody really expected this at the beginning of the season, and then we started really just rallying through the season. I felt like we had the potential, but we were pushing in the beginning because we were in a rebuilding year.
"But once we started playing those hard teams and started winning, there was no doubt in my mind that we could take it. I knew we had the potential towards the beginning when we started winning, but I don’t think anybody really expected this from us, which I love.”
Kinghorn agreed with that assessment.
“When people would talk to me last year and at the beginning of this year with that kinda like tone, ‘So, (you) lost 11 seniors. Hey, but you know what? You’ve got a strong J.V. team,’ just that kind of talk,” the Skyhawks’ coach said. “I knew that we would be tough, I knew that we would be again this year. I had a feeling that we would be back where we were. I did not know at the beginning of the year that we would win state, but after watching these girls play through the season, it’s like ‘We’re gonna win. We’re good.’
“I knew that we would get far in the tournament,” she said. “I mean, with Kirtlyn Bohling on the mound, she’s gonna shut people down, that’s just all there is to it. And I knew that our defense was gonna be strong. The thing I was worried about was our immaturity. I thought that being a young team that we would struggle in the big scene, we would struggle late in games. But we showed a lot of maturity. Abbie Tuttle is a sophomore, hit the ball outstanding in the championship state softball game and solid on defense, just incredible.
“That was absolutely how softball should be played, from the first inning to the last inning — strong hitting, strong defense on both sides. That definitely proves that these are the two tough teams in the state right there — nobody would question that. That was softball. And I’m glad we won.”