TAYLORSVILLE — Brooklyn Willes dove toward the fly ball that was suddenly lost in the setting sun, desperately hoping it would land in her outstretched mitt.
“I rolled over and just kind of laid there,” she said of her spectacular catch that gave Lehi the last out of its 5-4 victory over Taylorsville to claim the 5A state softball championship. “I knew we’d won state. It’s my senior year, and a great play to end it.”
Willes has struggled mightily at the plate this year, so both her parents and her coaches told her to focus on contributing in the outfield.
“I just tried to do my part,” she said. “I work my butt off in the outfield, even though I don’t hit.”
The catch came with two runners on base. And while everyone in the packed stands was mesmerized by the moment, there was one person who was particularly anxious as Willes sprinted toward the quickly moving softball.
“It was nerve-wracking to watch from the mound because those balls spin weird from lefties,” pitcher Sydney White said of the fly that appeared to be headed foul near the third-base line. “All I’m thinking is, ‘Please be foul! Please be foul!’ because I didn’t know if she was going to get there. But she came through for me, and it was a great way to end the game.”
It was an exciting title game between two teams that had played earlier in the tournament. Lehi defeated Taylorsville (6-2) on the second day of competition, sending it into the elimination bracket.
The championship was the sixth game in three straight days for the Warriors. They defeated top-ranked Layton 10-2 in Thursday’s 2:30 p.m. game for a chance to avenge their earlier loss to Lehi. In that game, pitcher Asenaca Lesuma hit two home runs, one a grand slam for five of the 10 RBIs.
Head coach Rich Kaelin said the initial loss to Lehi galvanized the young team.
“After that, we got together and we became a team,” Kaelin said. “We just played really, really well. They came together as a team, and that’s why we’re here. I was just really proud of my team. With only two seniors, to have my (underclassmen) come through like they did was amazing.”
Meanwhile, Lehi knocked off four region champions as a three seed, an unfortunate twist of fate as the Pioneers lost a coin toss in a three-way tie for the Region 4 title.
“To come from a three seed, to work and not get down, I think it just shows our heart and our character. And it just means the world to us that we were able to come through for each other.”
The Warriors scored first when Shaylee Pearson opened the game with a single and then scored on Karlee Jensen’s sacrifice fly. The Warriors scored two runs in the third inning when Karlee Jensen hit a two-run home run. Tasia Taylor drove in the fourth run in the sixth inning with a single.
After Taylor reached first, Caitlyn Littleford was thrown out at home and then Taylor was thrown out trying to steal second for an unusual double play for the Lehi defense.
White got Lehi’s first run as the lead-off batter in the first inning. She scored again when she led off in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Pioneers scored three more runs with two outs, and that was enough to secure the win.
As the Pioneers took the field in the top of the seventh inning, they needed just three outs to earn the school’s first state softball title since 1996.
“We didn’t say much at all,” said head coach Whitney Thomas. “It’s another inning, let’s go out and let’s get those outs. That’s what we’ve tried to do this whole time, just stay in control. That’s what we were going for.” White admitted she was tired, but there was never any discussion about anyone else standing in the circle for the second-ranked Pioneers.
“She was a little tired, and how could you not be?” Thomas said. “But she doesn’t let it show. She battles through, she keeps fighting, and it was just a great performance by her. We knew we would help her with our bats; we knew we could make it happen.”
Willes was at a loss for words when asked to describe what the accomplishment meant for the team, the school and the community.
“We wanted it so bad,” she said. “To finally get it, it’s a crazy feeling.”
Added White, who is only a sophomore, “None of these girls are playing for themselves. They’re working for each other. It feels great.”
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