WEST JORDAN — Part of what Ashley Clayson loved about playing softball was the position she had occupied on the field every season of her high school career — shortstop.
But when coaches suggested the team might need her more behind the plate, she didn’t hesitate to give it up “her baby.”
“She stepped up and accepted that role, and she’s exceeded my expectations behind the plate,” said Copper Hills head coach Jentry Johnson after the Grizzlies won their first-round 5A playoff game with a 3-0 win against Lehi. “She’s my right-hand man.”
Clayson said that while it was an adjustment to learn a new position, as well as adapt emotionally, she now loves her role as the “eyes of the field.”
“It was hard switching,” said Clayson. “But if it’s best for the team, then I’m willing to step up and do it if it helps our team win. ... I could care less where I play on the field if it makes us better.”
Johnson said having a senior behind the plate to anchor her young team has helped the Grizzlies win some tough games. Tuesday it made a difference for sophomore pitcher Payten Davies, who earned the win with an impressive outing in her first playoff appearance.
“I was a little bit nervous before the game, but after that first inning I felt fine,” said Davies, who now owns a 10-3 record.
At one point Gentry directed Clayson to have a conversation with Davies as two Lehi runners were poised to score on second and third with just a single out.
“I had a couple of thoughts at that time,” said Gentry. “First, I thought, 'If they score here, my kids will be OK.' But then I looked at Payten and I saw the countenance in her, and I knew we were going to get out of that inning.”
Davies went on to strike out the next two batters and the Grizzlies managed to hold the Pioneers scoreless the rest of the way. Copper Hills hit the ball consistently well throughout the game, starting in the second inning with its first run. The Grizzlies scored again in the third inning and the final run came in the fifth inning when Clayson hit a sacrifice fly to center field.
Johnson said her young players are gaining confidence with each win.
“That was a tough first game,” she said. “That region is a very good region and one through four would have been a tough draw.”
The Grizzlies will next face Davis, a team they defeated earlier this season. Johnson said she will work with her players on not being overly confident as most teams improve as the season progresses. She said the players work hard and believe they can compete with any team.
“The girls feel like we deserve it; we’ve prepared for it; and we’re ready for it,” she said of competing for a championship. “This team believes in themselves.”
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