SPANISH FORK Even though the San Juan Broncos only allowed six total runs in their entire five-game run of the 2A state softball tournament, they fought through their share of ups and downs on their way to the title with a 5-2 victory over Juab.
Great defense, timely hitting and the all-everything play of Generra Nielson propelled them to their first-ever state championship.
"That was fun. It was our time. That was a big win for us," said ace pitcher Nielson, who also led the Broncos in the batter's box.
"Generra has been the team leader for the last four years," said San Juan coach Craig Swenson. "All the girls follow her example. She set the bar high this year for the whole team, and they wanted it and achieved it."
Though the Broncos were heavily favored going into the tournament, they didn't do anything with flashy, over-the-top play. They focused on fundamentals and a great mental attitude to get them through the tough spots.
The Broncos found themselves behind during several key stretches late in games and even went extra innings against the Juab Wasps on Friday night to stay in the winners' bracket and in the driver's seat for the tourney championship.
"I like to work under pressure. It doesn't bother me," said Nielson, who had her share of pressure-filled innings both in the pitcher's circle and in the batter's box.
Swenson agreed, saying, "We've had some close games all tournament. We had to come back from behind, but these girls just don't panic."
After hitting a sacrifice fly for the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the eighth inning against Juab on Friday night, she came back with the first run of the game in the championship match-up on Saturday by blasting a home run over the left-center fence, putting her team on top 1-0 and transferring plenty of pressure to Juab.
The pressure on the Wasps then multiplied as she struck out batter after batter, finally finishing with 16 in the game.
San Juan added its second run of the game on a couple of jittery Juab errors in the bottom of the second but then couldn't come up with anything for the next three innings.
Juab, meanwhile, grabbed hold of some hope as singles by Chesha Bills and Mallory Ferguson put one run on their side of the scoreboard. Jordan Gurney then smashed her own home run over the left-center fence in the top of the sixth to deadlock things at 2-2.
But that was when San Juan picked everything up a notch and Nielson started off the bottom of the sixth with a single, her third hit of the contest. Heather Meyer hit a ground-rule double to the fence, the Wasps' left fielder committed an error and Briona Laws finished it all off with her own two-bagger to left-center.
"We're all just a big family," said Nielson. "The relationships on our team are so strong. ... We're all sisters on this team."
The Juab team had fought through some tough times on its route to the finals as well. The Wasps came back from down 7-0 against Manti in the semis to clinch a 9-7 victory.
That win put them into Friday night's game against San Juan, which went to extra innings, and they finally put themselves into the finals with a tight 4-3 victory over the Templars on Saturday morning, when Bills smacked the game-winning double in the bottom of the sixth inning. That loss knocked the Templars out of the state tournament for the first time in four years, breaking their streak of three state championships.
"The whole tournament we've just said, 'Play the game, not the opponents.' We've believed in ourselves and each other," said Juab coach Alley Gee, who added that she also encouraged the girls to remember they were playing the "game we all love."She was proud of pitcher Amy Johnson, who was told not to play as a sophomore because of severe knee problems, but "she's played so tough; she's played through it."
MVP: Generra Nielson, San Juan, pitcher
Haven Webb, San Juan, catcher
Briona Laws, San Juan, infield
Heather Meyer, San Juan, infield
Amy Johnson, Juab, pitcher
Jordan Gurney, Juab, infield
Chesha Bills, Juab, infield
Brittney Bryan, Juab, infield
Tauni McFarlane, Manti, outfield
Mckenzie Hatch, Manti, pitcher/infield
Megan Dowell, South Sevier, infield