PLAIN CITY — This promising showdown probably should've come much later in this year's 5A softball playoffs.
But, due to the magic of tiebreakers and coin flips, two of the top three 5A teams in Utah found themselves squaring off in Tuesday's opening round of the state tournament.
And when the dust settled on this dandy, back-and-forth duel, second-ranked Lehi got a gritty pitching performance from Sydney White, who also smacked a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth inning, as the Pioneers came away with a 9-5 victory over third-ranked Fremont.
White was staked to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, but the Silver Wolves scored three runs of their own in the bottom-half of the first to make it 4-3. Fremont then took a 5-4 lead in the third inning on a run-scoring triple by McKenzie Cottle and an RBI single by Shaylee Pierce.
"It's a game of momentum and it's hard as a pitcher, especially when you come out and score a lot of runs and you kinda feel like you've let your team down when you let 'em back in the game," White said. "But I know that if I just try and pitch out that my girls behind me have my back a hundred percent of the time."
However, with the way Fremont pitcher Kristina George — who came on with two out in the first inning and shut out Lehi on two hits over the next four frames — was throwing the ball, it looked like the Silver Wolves could be in control.
But in the sixth inning, the Pioneers' Madison Cook singled to left and, with two out, White lofted a two-run shot over the center-field fence to lift Lehi back on top, 6-5.
"It wouldn't have been anything without (Cook) on base," White said. "It would've still been a tie ballgame. Changing the momentum with one swing is real nice."
The Pioneers added three insurance runs in the seventh on singles by Tara Tahbo and Kacie Fruitenberger, a sacrifice fly by Rylin Roberts, and Cook's two-run blast over the fence in left-center field.
And White, who gave up seven hits over the first three innings, didn't allow a hit over the final four frames to send the Pioneers soaring into Thursday's second-round game against Region 2 champ Taylorsville.
"When they come and help me out with the bats, I've got to help them out on the mound, so I try my best," said White, who altered her pitching strategy after the third inning. "I talked to my catcher (Brylee Bringhurst) and we changed our game plan from going outside on the girls to jamming 'em on the hands, and it worked throughout the rest of the game. So it's all about just changing things up.
"If we get something going, you know, it's hard to stop us when we're rolling," she said of her team's late-game scoring surge. "It makes my life a lot easier on the mound in the last inning."
Tuesday's matchup marked a deceiving duel between two teams who, with more than 40 wins between them, were better than their state playoff seeding might indicate.
Lehi (21-6) wound up in a three-way tie for the Region 4 title, but lost the subsequent coin flip and ended up being the league's No. 3 seed, while Fremont (22-6) finished tied for first in Region 1, but lost the tiebreaker and took the league's No. 2 seed into the state tournament.
"It was a good game, a fun game," Lehi coach Whitney Thomas said. "We came up here knowing that we were in a good position as far as competition. We knew they were a good team, but we knew we were also. I thought it was going to be a good, close game, but our bats were hot today and we battled through.
"It was tough for all of us. It was tough for them as well, us losing the coin flip and going in as a No. 3 seed. So it was good competition; it's always fun to know that it's going to be tough and we battled through and got it today.
"And we had to kinda swing back after they took the momentum a little, but we did and we came back and got our bats back going again, and that was big for us. Sometimes that's all it takes is one swing," she said of White's go-ahead homer. "I always tell the girls that sometimes it only takes one thing to change the whole game around, and today it proved that and it got the momentum back for us and then we were off."
Thomas was particularly pleased with White's gritty pitching performance and with the way her team hit the ball.
"She's always tough; she's a gamer," Thomas said of White. "We always know we can count on her. Credit to them, (the Silver Wolves) hit the ball well today, they did. But she stayed tough and she was resilient and came back and really shut 'em down after that.
"I knew they'd be tough, but we've been pretty strong throughout and I knew our bats could score some runs. So I knew we could put those (runs) on there."
Lehi took a quick 4-0 lead in the first on two walks, a couple of Fremont errors, and run-scoring singles by Stephanie Zimmerman, Fruitenberger and Cook.Comment on this story
Fremont roared right back with three runs in the bottom of the first on RBI singles by Jessee Wilson and Kelsee Bushell and a sacrifice fly by Cottle.
Wilson led off the third with a single and scored when Cottle's fly ball eluded Fruitenberger in right field for a triple, and Cottle scored on Pierce's RBI single to make it 5-4 and set the stage for Lehi's late comeback.
Cook wound up with three hits, three RBIs and two runs scored for the Pioneers, while Fruitenberg, Kaitlyn Oberg and Tara Tahbo each had two hits.