SOUTH JORDAN Greg Almond remembers clearly the summer his youngest daughter, Tori, learned to pitch.
"Her coach was Cyndee Bennett (now at Olympus High), and she told her to throw as hard as she could and not worry about where the ball goes," Almond said. "I've never chased a ball so much in my life."
What a difference a little practice can make. Well, OK, a lot of practice and a significant amount of athletic ability. Just a sophomore, Tori Almond matured so much in one year that she took over most of the pitching duties for the Bingham Miners and led them to a historic 5A championship with poise, maturity and confidence. As a result, she became the Deseret News' inaugural Ms. Softball recipient.
"I don't think Tori knew how talented she was last year in the tournament," said Bingham coach Mikki Jackson, who guided the Miners to a title through the losers' bracket after the team lost its first-round game to Weber. "This year, she had that confidence that comes from knowing you belong there."
When the situation was toughest, Almond was her best. The 15-year-old finished the season with a 0.65 ERA and 174 strikeouts, and she gave up just one home run all season.
"Look at the batters Tori faced, just in the state tournament alone," said Jackson. "She really did hold her own against the best hitters in the state ... She was just a completely different pitcher this year."
Jackson said Almond's best attribute may not be her rise ball or her athletic skill but her ability to elevate the play of those around her.
"She recognizes the talents around her," Jackson said. "She respects her teammates, appreciates her teammates and works hard for them."
Almond said she began pitching when she was 10, and was immediately addicted to the unique demands of the job.
"I really kind of like the pressure," she said.
When the team faced a road that no other softball team had successfully travelled to the title game, Almond said she actually felt inspired by the challenge of winning eight straight games.
"I was kind of excited," she said. "I knew we could do it, but I did know it would be tough. I love that pressure, probably because I have a great team to back me up."
To be the first team in history to come back from a first-round loss to earn a 5A state title is something that makes her first championship just a little sweeter.
"It feels amazing," she said. "Winning a championship is all we thought about after last year. It was devastating to lose that first game, but we weren't going to let it ruin our dreams of a state championship."
Like Jackson, her father noticed a more mature pitcher in his daughter this year."I was more nervous in those games than she was," he said. "In social settings, she's somewhat shy and quiet. But in that circle she is focused, under control and ready to pitch."