It's a little bit sweeter this year because we had to work so hard or we didn't have a chance. ... We didn't come into it expecting to win, and we just had to take it one pitch at a time and one inning at a time, and that was kind of a hard goal today. —Salem Hills pitcher Kirtlyn Bohling, on winning back-to-back state titles
TAYLORSVILLE — Bonneville High's defense had an uncharacteristic off-day that threw the door wide open for Salem Hills.
And the Skyhawks stormed right through it with an effort befitting of a true, two-time state champion.
With senior right-hander Kirtlyn Bohling handcuffing the Lakers' batters with a pair of superb pitching performances, and she and her teammates capitalizing on Bonneville's defensive miscues with some mighty timely hitting, the Skyhawks stormed to their second-straight 4A state softball championship Thursday night.
Salem Hills (24-8) smacked Bonneville 10-1 in the first matchup, forcing a second "if" game, and the Skyhawks spanked the Lakers again 8-2 to wrap up their second-straight state title at the Valley Complex.
Salem Hills coach Renae Kinghorn was very emotional after watching her team win three games — they beat Spanish Fork 4-3 in eight innings earlier Thursday to reach the finals — to take home the title again.
"It's just this group of girls is just really special," she said. "We're gonna lose a lot of seniors, so I'm a little sad about that.
"I actually think it's better than last year, 'cause we fought through the losers bracket this time. It was tougher. We showed more guts, we showed more heart. I mean, obviously beating Box Elder last year (for the title) was not an easy task, but beating Spanish Fork to get to this game — are you kidding me? — that felt really good to beat Spanish to get here because they are tough. So that was fun for us.
"And I think after we beat Spanish, I think we were kind of unstoppable, as it showed," Kinghorn said. "We were kinda on fire; we've been here before, we know what this stage feels like. I don't think Bonneville really has been here (for a while), so maybe that kinda shell-shocked them a little bit.
"When we played them on Tuesday, they were solid — completely, absolutely solid defensively. But today we came out with a little bit more confidence, I think, and a little bit more fire than we came out on Tuesday, so that served us well. And I think the jitters of a big game got to Bonneville a little bit."
Bohling, who picked up the gritty complete-game, eight-inning victory earlier in the day over Spanish Fork to give Salem Hills its shot at the title, turned right around and shut down Bonneville's bats in back-to-back games.
She pitched six shutout innings in the 10-1 win, allowing just two hits, and then held the Lakers (24-5) to one run on six hits over seven innings in the 8-2 title clincher.
"I got a little drained at the beginning of that last game," she said. "I was a little tired. But my defense made the plays I needed and they stepped up. They played so tight that I didn't have to worry — if (Bonneville) got a bat on the ball, (her defense) made the play on it. It was nice.
"It's a little bit sweeter this year because we had to work so hard or we didn't have a chance. ... We didn't come into it expecting to win, and we just had to take it one pitch at a time and one inning at a time, and that was kind of a hard goal today.
"It definitely made it sweeter when you work so hard," Bohling said. "It's so nice to see the reward of it. I wouldn't want it any other way."
Kinghorn had nothing but high praise for the determined performance of her star senior right-hander.
"Kirtlyn Bohling, she's unstoppable," the Skyhawks' coach said. "She pitched three games today, five games in two days, and you can't ask that of a pitcher; you can't ask anybody to do that. But she would not just stop.
"She is so tough — one of the best athletes I have ever seen in my life. ... She wanted it; she was hungry, and she got it."
Much as they did in Thursday's 10-1 win, the Skyhawks came up with a big inning in the finale to put the Lakers, who had won 16 of their previous 17 games before Thursday, back on their heels.
Salem Hills scored five runs in the second inning, taking advantage of a couple of costly Bonneville errors and getting an RBI single from Ashley Whiting and a two-run double from Alex Oveson. The Skyhawks made it 6-0 in the third on Amelia Weight's solo home run.
"We played together as a team and we hit as a team," said Oveson, a junior outfielder. "We didn't hit for the glory or to be the hero. We hit for the team, and this is so great to come together.
"That was our goal was to jump ahead because that's one of the hardest things for a team to come back from."
Bonneville got a run back in the fourth on a solo shot by Mykel Davis, but the Skyhawks scored two more runs in the fifth to make it 8-1, as Whiting came through again with a two-run single.
By then, it was all over but the shouting.
"They got really mad (after losing to Bonneville 1-0 two days earlier)," Kinghorn said. "Sometimes when you get mad, that's not a good thing because you kinda crumble, but this team got mad and wanted to come back with a vengeance. ... We had to fight through, fight some of that insecurity or anxiety that comes in sports, right, anybody can beat anybody any day.
"So fighting through and just pushing through, knowing we've done it before, knowing we can do it again. That helped carry us, too. And our bats came alive these last two days.
"Our motto this year has been first blood — we want to score first," Kinghorn said. "That gives us a lot of confidence — your pitchers throw better, your defense plays more loose, when you have runs on the board. People just play loose, and when you play loose you play better. And playing with confidence, with runs supporting our defense, it's tough to beat. We're a tough team to beat."
And Bonneville High's heartbroken bunch of Lakers can certainly attest to that.
SALEM HILLS 10, BONNEVILLE 1: The Skyhawks smacked out 13 hits and feasted on seven uncharacteristic errors by the Lakers' normally ultra-reliable defense to force a second showdown for the 4A title.
Bohling threw six shutout innings and allowed just two hits with six strikeouts, and she helped her own cause with three RBIs, including a two-run homer in the fourth inning when Salem Hills put up a five-spot to break it open.
The Skyhawks scratched out a pair of early unearned runs, aided by a couple of Laker fielding miscues, then strung together six hits — highlighted by Bohling's two-run blast over the center-field fence — to take a 7-0 lead and essentially stash the win away.
Annalee Castleberry knocked in two runs for Salem Hills, and Alex Oveson and Amelia Weight each had two hits, including a double apiece, and an RBI. Kenzie Martin also had an RBI for the Skyhawks, and Oveson, Martin and Kenna Davis each scored a pair of runs.
Abby Toller drilled a couple of doubles and scored Bonneville's only run in the seventh inning on an RBI single by Mykel Davis.
SALEM HILLS 4, SPANISH FORK 3 (8 INNINGS): In Thursday's semifinal showdown, Bohling's run-scoring groundout in the eighth inning pushed the winning run across the plate to propel the Skyhawks into the title game.
Oveson started the bottom of the eighth at second base in the international tiebreaker, and she advanced to third base on a wild pitch. With one out, Bohling bounced a chopper to the right side of the infield and was thrown out at first, but Oveson broke for home and barely beat the throw to the plate to win it.