There are moments in athletics that transcend the game itself, moments that shape individuals, teams and sometimes, communities. They can be anticipated, but seldom does anticipation live up to what really happens. When it happens, our memories of the moment stay crisp and vivid for years to come. Thursday, the Salem Hills Skyhawks softball team gathered enough momentum to create just such a moment in its 4-2 win over the Dons of Spanish Fork.
In terms of placement into the upcoming 4A state softball tournament, Thursday's game didn't mean anything. Spanish Fork was going to be the No. 1 seed coming out of Region 8, while Salem Hills will enter the state tournament as a No. 2 seed from the region. The historically strong Dons laid the wood to the Skyhawks in their first game of the season, 7-0. The Skyhawks are trying to establish themselves as one of the top softball programs in Utah County and the state.
Rivalries being what they are, this game had an immensely greater meaning that players, coaches, parents and fans were aware of as they walked into the ballpark Thursday. This game was for momentum, and both teams needed it going into the state tournament. The tension was palpable as the two communities, which are less than five miles part, came together to watch a softball game. They left sensing the enormity of the rivalry that has developed and the potential for one or even two more games against each other in the coming state tournament.
Players from both teams have played both with and against each other for many years. Bonds of friendship, intense rivalry and sometimes antagonism were built over that time, all of which makes a simple, meaningless game like Thursday's a breeding ground for great plays and big moments. All of the pieces were in place for a great contest.
In all, 15 players between the two teams have played together or against one another (some both) for the past 10 years. All of this intersecting of talents and communities converged at Spanish Fork's home field in what could be the precursor to a state championship contest later this month, although there are many very good teams around 4A who will have a say in that.
With one out and nobody on in the top of the first inning, Alexandra Oveson (3 for 4, home run, 2 RBIs) created her memory of the day by driving a pitch over the center field fence to put the Skyhawks up 1-0. Spanish Fork answered in their half with a McKinley Brinkerhoff (2 for 4, 2 runs) triple to lead off, and a Dani Perkins single to tie the game.
Skyhawks coach Renae Kinghorn said, "That hit by Alex instilled confidence in our players. We did not hit well the last time we played Spanish Fork, but we knew immediately with Alex's homer that it would be different today. She is so fierce, so determined right now."
The Dons scored again in the third inning as Brinkerhoff again led off with a hit, this time a single. She advanced to second when Perkins was tagged out on an infield grounder up the first base line, and scored when Kaylie Bott drove a single through a hole in the infield, putting Spanish Fork up 2-1.
The Skyhawks answered with two runs in the top of the fifth inning as Ashley Whiting singled to lead off and Annalee Castleberry reached on a fielder's choice. When Tiffany Madson slapped for a base hit, the overthrow to third scored Whiting, and Castleberry reached second base. After two pop outs, it looked like the Dons might escape with minimal damage, but Oveson singled for her second RBI, scoring Castleberry.
In the sixth, Kirtlyn Bohling walked and her speed-up runner, Maddie Kagiones, reached second on a fielder's choice. Skyhawk third baseman McKenna Davis walked to put two runners on. Abbie Tuttle then stepped up and drove a line drive to the fence, doubling and earning the RBI when Kagiones scored to put Salem Hills up 4-2, which is how it ended.
Kinghorn said, "To come in here and beat this team at home is huge. They are a great team. They hit the ball hard. Every single batter is a tough out. We can never relax against them."
Bohling echoed that sentiment by saying, "I thought they had 7, 8, 9 coming up in the bottom of the seventh, then found out it was 8, 9, 1 instead. I knew we could not let down. Any time McKinley gets up, anything can happen."
After getting a strike-out and a pop-up, Bohling got Brinkerhoff on a hard hit grounder to Tuttle for the final out and the Skyhawks won.
The Dons finish up the regular season with Pleasant Grove and Provo, while the Skyhawks have three remaining games: Grantsville, Wasatch and Stansbury, all of which will provide their own challenges.
Troy Bohling can be contacted at email@example.com.