TAYLORSVILLE — Copper Hills coach Jentry Jo Johnson was certain that if her team could hit the ball, it had a shot at playing for a state softball title.
But while she had tremendous confidence in her young team, she couldn't have imagined they’d earn 21 hits against the state’s top-ranked perennial power — Bingham.
“Not ever did I expect that,” said Johnson after the Grizzlies defeated Bingham 15-0 in Wednesday night’s 5A semifinal game. “That Bingham team is such a good team — led by great coaches, led by a great pitcher and they’ve got great hitters — and never did I expect that.”
The win means the unranked, second-seeded Grizzlies will play for the 5A state title Thursday at 5 p.m. Their opponent will be determined at 2:30 in the afternoon when Bingham faces Lehi, the team Copper Hills defeated in the first round of the playoffs.
“I am so proud,” Johnson said. “Honestly, I knew it would come down to hitting, and through this state tournament we’ve done exactly that. We’ve executed the hits. We’ve done what we needed to do. We’ve put the hurtin’ on them. We’ve done what we needed to do to put the pressure on our opponents.”
The Grizzlies' first at-bats weren't indicative of what was to come with the Miners turning a spectacular double play that prevented Copper Hills from scoring.
“They got that double play in the first inning and their dugout erupted, and I just thought, ‘We need to match that,'” Johnson said. “I wasn’t nervous because it’s a long game, but I thought, ‘We need to match that intensity.’”
The Grizzlies did that when they held Bingham scoreless and then scored their first run.
“We scored in the second inning, and man, our foot never came off the gas,” said Johnson. “To swing the bats like that, in a state championship game, against a team like that, is a good tribute to my young team.”
The Grizzlies followed up that one run in the second with four in the third and three in the fourth. Bingham changed pitchers in the fourth after Emilee Sweet scored on a passed ball. Sweet went 4 of 5 with a triple, and she also scored four runs. Ashley Clayson was 3 of 5 with a double and she scored three runs. Riley Cleverly went 2 of 5 and earned five RBIs. Lacie Tulin was 3 of 5. And Ashlee Anderson was 2 of 4.
The Grizzlies' few returning players may have had a moment of deja vu as Copper Hills won this same game last season against the same team. Then Bingham lost to Weber and the Warriors beat Copper Hills twice to earn the 5A state title.
While many of the young players were not contributing starters on that team, the older players are making sure they understand that there is more work to be done.
“I have talked to them about 600 times about where our focus needs to be and where our intensity needs to be,” said Johnson. “And they’re two different places. We’ve talked about it, and they know it. ... They need to stay streamlined with a vision, and our intensity is what skyrockets, but the focus never leaves.”
Clayson, Copper Hills' senior catcher, said she’s seen the team grow over the course of the season and she isn’t worried about how they’ll manage the mixture of excitement and nerves Thursday evening.
“These pressure situations have really made everybody step up,” said Clayson. “And they’ve come up and done a huge job. We can look to anyone to do their job. We have the best coaching staff in the state; they believe in us more than I’ve ever seen anyone believe in somebody else. They push us; they’ve prepared us; and they trust us and we trust them. We know that we’re ready to fight against anybody and that we can put up a good game against anybody.”
Clayson said Johnson has helped the Grizzlies focus on themselves and what they can control, rather than their ever-changing opponents, by asking them do what might seem insignificant.
“She is always talking about the little things,” Clayson said. “Do the little things and it will make the biggest difference in the game. And it has. We’ve taken it to heart, and it’s made the biggest difference.”
Even freshman shortstop Ashlee Anderson said she’s noticed changes in the team’s energy as the season has progressed.
“I think we’ve become more of a team now,” she said. “We’re one family. ... We’ve just dedicated ourselves to the team, so we're all there — all for each other.”
Adds Clayson: “If we can keep doing what we’ve been doing the last few days, it won’t be the same as last year.”
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