Not every tournament has a favorite.
But this year’s 2A softball tournament not only has a favorite — it has the only undefeated squad in the state.
And to be clear, top-ranked Manti isn’t undefeated because the Templars played a cream-puff schedule. Their 21-0 record includes the state’s top-ranked 2A teams, as well as Viewmont, Wasatch, Salem Hills, Grantsville and Hunter.
Nobody understands how much of a favorite Manti is like second-ranked South Summit. Like the Templars, the Wildcats sought challenges from the state’s best programs, regardless of classification.
“We really tried to beef up our schedule,” said South Summit coach Cody Bowen. “We added bigger schools, good 3A teams, so that we’re not afraid to see great pitching at the tournament.”
But with all the success the Wildcats have enjoyed in their 21-6 season, they couldn’t give the Templars that one loss.
“We just (couldn’t) beat Manti,” Bowen said with a laugh. “They’re good.”
He said the fact that the teams play in the same region is both an advantage and a disadvantage. “It’s nice to see them twice, to get over the anxiety of playing them,” Bowen said. “But then, they beat us twice.”
The Templars were also responsible for the Wildcats’ exit the one-loss bracket last year, which meant earning fourth place instead of third.
“They’re just solid,” he said. “They don’t make mistakes. They don’t give you anything. They just basically outhit us.”
Bowen said every aspect of the Templars’ game is solid, which is why he sees them as the postseason favorite.
“That’s the team to beat, in my opinion,” he said.
That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of teams that could contend in this year’s tournament, which begins with first-round games on Thursday at the Spanish Fork Softball Complex.
“There is still an upper-echelon of three or four teams, but there are about five or six really solid teams that if you don’t play well, they’ll beat you,” Bowen said.
The top-ranked Templars, who finished third last season after losing to San Juan in the semifinals and Enterprise in elimination play, will take on Kanab at 2 p.m.
The Templars are led by pitcher Kali Thompson, who owns an 18-0 record. Lizzy Palmer, who also pitches, Natalie Peterson, Ashlie Stevens and Mikaela Cox make the Templars one of the toughest offenses in any classification.
Meanwhile, the second-ranked Wildcats will have a tough first-round draw against Delta. South Summit is led by Natalie Nichols and Hannah Peterson, who lead off in the batting order as slap batters. Nichols also shoulders most of the pitching duties, although Peterson is just as capable.
Third-ranked San Juan is the defending champion, but the Broncos lost to both Manti and South Summit in nonregion play. The Broncos are led by junior pitcher Tatiana Su’e Su’e, the reigning Deseret News Ms. Softball who was recently awarded Female High School Athlete of the Year by the Governor’s State of Sport Awards. Jessica Swenson, Kellie Palmer and Presley Mainard bolster the team’s offense.
San Juan will take on Parowan in the first round, a team that broke into the rankings two weeks ago with a win over Enterprise, last year’s runner-up. Fourth-ranked Parowan is led by pitcher Ashley Rice, while Enterprise, ranked fifth, is led by pitcher Dakota Robinson. The Wolves will face ALA at noon on Thursday.
The tournament runs through Saturday, with the championship scheduled for noon.
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