TAYLORSVILLE Even though it rarely has a down year, Bear River brought home its first state softball crown since 2002, and it was a surprise to no one.
"I knew at the beginning of the year that we had a really good team, but you still have to perform on the field," said Bear River coach Calvin Bingham about his team, which was the heavy favorite in 3A action in spite of the fact that the Bears have only two seniors on the roster.
And the team they finally took out in that final game, 3-0, was a surprise team from Cedar City that came from down south to storm into the state tournament.
"It's quite amazing that we're here. I had no clue we'd get here. ... We've never been as far as this game before. I hope we have another chance, but it doesn't always happen," said Cedar coach Tom Cardon, about his own team, which fields only a pair of seniors.
The Cedar team had split two previous games with Bear River, winning 2-1 back in March and losing the semifinal match-up on Friday with a 5-1 score.
But no matter how many times the two had matched up or how intense the earlier game Saturday for Cedar was in order to get into the championship, the Bears remained calm and just played their game, knowing they had what it took.
"We just had an intense warm-up and had a pep talk from the coach," said senior Kelsey Hodge, who had one of the key hits against the Redmen that helped propel her team to victory.
"This was great," she added. "I'd never played in a championship game before."
And through the first three innings, it was a defensive and pitching masterpiece for both teams as neither could manage to even get a runner past second base. But the Bears' bats came out in the bottom of the fourth as Hodge started things off with a single to center with just one out.
Madison Jensen followed with the only walk of the contest to either team. Pitcher and 3A tournament MVP Josi Summers then hit into a fielder's choice that got to the bag just a little bit late and picked up what turned out to be the game-winning RBI with the at-bat.
Singles for Nicole Johnson, Kayla Webb and Kallie Bowcutt followed, and when all was said and done the Bears had brought in the only three runs the game would see.
"It made me more comfortable with where we were, gave me more of a cushion," said Summers after her team had taken the lead. She then added that she'd changed up her pitching style just a little to deal with some tough Cedar hitters.
"They've already seen me twice before, so I threw more off-speed, but I was confident in my defense," said Summers.
Summers had plenty of reason to be comfortable with her defense. Neither team picked up a single error, and there were several nice plays during the afternoon. But great defense is nothing new for the Bears as they've given up very few bases on errors all season long.
The Bears finished with six hits compared to Cedar's five but were able to string things together much better than the Redmen, who did come back with some action in the top of the seventh to make things interesting.
With one out, pitcher Kellie Kastanes singled to short left, followed by a fly out to left field and another single lined by Rachel Nakken to right. The tying run then grounded out to third to end the game.
In spite of the fact that Cedar had a pair on with the tying run up, Bingham wasn't particularly nervous in the final inning.
"If the next runner had got on, I'd have been nervous, but Josi was throwing well," he said.
Because of Jacy Howe's broken finger, Bingham started a pair of sophomores who hadn't before seen varsity action.Both Nicole Johnson and Whitney Zundel hit home runs in the tournament. Johnson not only hit a pair of long balls, she had a huge single in the middle of the big fourth inning in the championship game.
"We knew she was a great hitter, and she came through yesterday and had a big hit today," Bingham said.
Meanwhile, Cedar is making plans to bring its game back to this level next season, with what they hope is different results.
"Now we have to go for the gold rather than the silver," said Cardon, whose team barely made it into the title game after a tough come-from-behind victory over Juan Diego earlier in the day.
The Redmen rallied to a 5-4 win after finding themselves behind 4-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning against the Soaring Eagle. They scored the first run with only one out and the second when the runner collided with Juan Diego catcher Kaitlan Horrocks at the plate, sending Horrocks down with an injury and putting Cedar's winning run on second.
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MVP: Josi Summers, Bear River
Kellie Kastanes, Cedar
Reggie Edwards, Cedar
Tawny Freese, Cedar
Jen Stanley, Union
Stephanie Wilkins, Union
Brett Courtright, Union
Amber Gasu, Juan Diego
Brie Dimond, Juan Diego
Jessica Long, Juan Diego
Nicole Johnson, Bear River
Kayla Webb, Bear River
Kelsey Hodge, Bear River