TAYLORSVILLE Coach Mikki Jackson met her team at Bingham's softball field the day after they lost a one-run heartbreaker to Weber, knowing she had to convince the Miners they could do something no other softball team had done in state history.
She didn't throw a softball. She didn't run drills. She didn't even yell. Instead, she made them talk to each other for two hours, something her players called a mental workout. The teenage players said that when they left that day, they were convinced that if they believed in each other and trusted each other, they could recover from a first-round loss and earn a state title.
"That next day, we didn't practice physically," said Jackson after the Miners became the first team to ever come back from a first-
round loss to earn the 5A title, which they captured Thursday with back-to-back wins over defending 5A champion Taylorsville. "I knew that unless we created a mission for this team to accomplish, we'd never make it. It was a challenging road we traveled."
No challenge was greater for the Miners than beating the Warriors in their second game of the day which, if they lost, would award Taylorsville the 5A trophy.
"That was the biggest challenge for us," said Jackson, who coached at Bingham in the '90s and then came back to the program last year. "It was absolutely exhausting getting them to believe."
These players had doubts. Some of them were the same players who were on the first Bingham softball team in a decade not to qualify for the state tournament. That, they said, is still one of the most bitter disappointments of their young lives.
"We knew we couldn't be broken down by the loss," said catcher Kylie Thomas. "We knew we didn't lose that game to Weber physically. ... We didn't look at how hard it was going to be; we looked at the first three games. Then we looked at the next five. There was some doubt, I mean, no one has ever done it."
But the players said game by game, the little bits of doubt faded to the backs of their minds.
They beat Lehi, then Spanish Fork, Viewmont, Northridge and Fremont. Finally, Thursday, they beat region-rival Riverton in the 9:45 a.m. game that allowed them to play for the 5A state title. About an hour later, they took the field against Taylorsville and earned a thrilling 3-2 win when Chalese Fankhauser hit a solo home run that would turn out to be the game-winner.
"We were just trying to string hits together," said Groves, who also hit a home run in that game. Taylorsville's only runs in that game came from home runs one from Tia Palauni and one from Carlee Steele.
The second game did not start well for Taylorsville, as senior pitcher Ashlee Moore walked the first three batters to load the bases. Coach Rich Kaelin changed pitchers, and Katie Groves hit a grand slam home run.
"It's the hardest thing to come from a loss and win that next game," Kaelin said. "It's an emotional letdown to lose 3-2, and then to give up four runs in the first inning, give Bingham all the credit. That's hard to bounce back from."
The Warriors never did find the offensive power that has marked their journey through the tournament.
It was the Miners who stroked hit after hit and seemed to get every break. Fankhauser finished the tournament with seven home runs and earned the All-Tournament MVP. Her teammate, Bingham third baseman Katie Groves, was right behind her with four home runs in the tournament, including three in the last four games.
In the fourth inning, (first baseman) M'Liss Peterson said, "This is better than Christmas,'" said shortstop Shaynie Phillips. "And I've gotten some great presents, but yes, this was better than Christmas."
And it was nice to be able to give the gift of a championship to their coach."It's amazing," said Phillips. "She's a great coach. ... She's pushed us harder and harder every day. Right now none of us care how hard those practices were. This is the best."
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