TAYLORSVILLE Nicole Johnson last played in a varsity softball game for Bear River in a preseason tournament at St. George.
Ironically, when the Bears' coach told the sophomore she'd be the designated hitter in the team's 3A state tournament quarterfinal game against Uintah on Friday, she wasn't nervous at all.
"Before the tournament started, I was nervous," said Johnson after the Bears defeated Cedar 5-1 to earn a berth in the 3A state title game today. "I felt confident once I was in the game because my teammates really support me."
She stepped up to the plate determined to "play ball and have fun" and that's exactly what she did, smacking a home run in the Bears' 7-0 win over Uintah, and then hitting a solo home run in the semifinal game against Cedar on Friday night.
"It felt really good," said the sophomore with a grin. "It's just kind of like, wow."
That's how Bear River coach Calvin Bingham was feeling after watching his team play an error-free, offensively dominating game against a very talented Uintah team in the afternoon and then dismantle a tough Cedar squad a few hours later.
"That was nice," said Bingham of the Cedar win. "I knew this was going to be a mighty good team. ... We sure played good ball today."
The Bears' solid performance came at just the right time, and it followed a near meltdown on Thursday night against Hurricane. The Bears nearly squandered a 7-0 lead in the sixth, when they allowed the Tigers to score six runs in the top half of the inning.
"We lost our composure for whatever reason," he said. But every aspect of the Bears' game was firing Friday, as the top-ranked team earns a chance at a 3A title.One key to the team's success is sophomore pitcher Josi Summers.
"She is throwing really well," said Bingham. "We haven't had the chance to work her like we've needed to. We need her to go a full game, grinding it out, not just for the physical stamina but for the mental toughness. Last night was good for us in that way."
Summers said it's her teammates who help her deal with those moments when she's not feeling as confident as she should.
"Our dugout keeps us so positive," said Summers, who had 13 strikeouts against the Lady Reds. "They help out so much."
Both players said the Bears are awfully excited to be in the 3A title game, and a couple even got sick waiting for Bingham to offer his postgame speech.
"It's so exciting," said Summers, smiling at Johnson. "I've been waiting my whole life for this."
She was so anxious, she wasn't sure she'd be getting much sleep.
"I might have to take a few pills," she said tongue-in-cheek.
Johnson was the only one with a home run in the game against Cedar, but Whitney Zundel and Kelsey Hodge also hit homers in the win over Uintah.
Cedar had a couple of costly errors, but have the experience and talent to get to that final game today. To get another shot at the Bears, the fourth-ranked Lady Reds will have to beat the third-ranked Juan Diego Soaring Eagle.
Juan Diego lost Thursday night, so the squad had to win three games Friday, including the final 7-2 win over Union on the field adjacent to the Cedar/Bear River game. Amber Gasu had home runs in every game, the most helpful a grand slam in the top of the seventh inning which helped the Soaring Eagle in a come-from-behind win against North Sanpete.Juan Diego and Cedar will play for the other berth in that title game at 10 a.m. at the Valley Softball Complex in Taylorsville. The 3A championship game is scheduled for 12:15 p.m.