High school softball: Seniors lead Copper Hills Grizzlies to first softball state title

Published: Thursday, May 23 2013 11:15 p.m. MDT

Copper Hills/Bingham in the 5A State Softball Championship game in West Valley City Thursday, May 23, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

TAYLORSVILLE — Copper Hills softball coach Jentry Jo Johnson covered her face with a hand towel as she embraced her senior catcher on the field where the pair led the Grizzlies to their first state softball title.

The crowd around them cheered and clapped as they cried.

This was a moment made possible because a group of teenage girls chose to see in themselves what their coach convinced them they were capable of achieving in three short months together.

“I just tried to challenge them every single day, to tell them and show them that they could believe in themselves,” said Johnson after the Grizzlies beat Bingham 4-3 Thursday night to claim the school’s first softball title. “It’s been a journey. I had to convince them they’re capable of this everyday.”

It began — and ended — with the team’s three seniors.

Instead of feeling entitled, like some seniors are prone to do, the seniors on the Copper Hills softball team consistently put the team before themselves, even if that meant cheering their younger players on from the sideline.

Senior catcher Ashley Clayson gave up the position she’d played for three years to become the Grizzlies’ catcher.

“She’s going to be someone that I miss greatly,” said Johnson. “Moving positions behind the plate was almost one of the best things that I could have done because she commanded the field so well. Everything that I ever asked, she did — above and beyond even what I asked. … It’s like we’ve had the same mind all season long, and she’s been the greatest leader that I could have asked for.”

The team relied on senior left fielder Dani Hamilton to start the offense each game.

“She set the pace to a lot of the last half of our games,” said Johnson. “She was one of my most consistent hitters all season long.”

And then there was senior pitcher Rashelle North.

Her last start came on senior day a few weeks ago. Since then, Johnson said she’s gone with her “gut” and started sophomore Payten Davies. The younger pitcher threw well for the Grizzlies, but before the start of Thursday’s championship game, Johnson told North, “We’re going to need you today.”

North said she never felt badly that Davies started over her in every playoff game.

“At this point, I just knew we had to do it for the team,” she said. “If Payten starting was best for the team, then that’s what was best. But when she said they were going to need me, I just knew I was getting my chance today.”

She got her chance in the third inning after Bingham took a 2-1 lead. Miner freshman Torre Glasker got on base when she was hit by a pitch, and then third baseman Shea Ibrahim got on base with a single. Catcher Chelsea Latu’s single allowed Glasker to score, followed by Taylor Clemens' single that scored Latu.

North came in and got the final out to end the inning.

“Rachelle is a senior and she’s wanted this so bad,” said Johnson. “I’ve gone with my gut for the last several games, and she’s stood in the wings waiting for her opportunity.”

She said she didn’t hesitate to make the change, and the other players said it didn’t rattle them at all.

“I knew (Rashelle) was ready to come in,” said Clayson. “She’s wanted this for four years now. I knew she’d step up and do her job. … She knew we had her back on defense, and she just carried us the rest of the game.”