SPANISH FORK — McKenzie Hatch has wanted nothing more than to lead the Manti Templars to a 2A softball title for more than a year. But when it came down to the final moments of the 2A state championship softball game Saturday, Hatch decided her team needed someone else in the circle.
After giving up a three-run home run to San Juan sophomore Kelsi Meyer, Manti coach Susan Hatch called a time out and called her team together in the center of the field.
"She asked to be pulled out," said the coach, who is also McKenzie's aunt, after the Templars won the 2A title with a dramatic 6-3 come-from-behind win.
McKenzie said it was a difficult request to make, but it was made easier because of what she and her teammates set out to prove at the beginning of the season.
"I felt like that's what we needed," said the senior. "I felt they needed someone new, that we needed to change things up a bit . . . It was hard, but it was the best thing for the team."
Senior Kaitlyn Hatch was her reliever in the fifth inning, and she said moving from shortstop to pitch at such a critical moment made her stomach do a little flip.
"I was a little nervous," she said.
And then McKenzie added, "Kaitlyn has always been there to back me up. We're two peas in a pod helping each other out."
As she helped her get the celebration dust off of her face, Kaitlyn Hatch said the title was a perfect end to a senior season that included playing with three of her first cousins.
"It's incredible," she said. "It's a good way to end the season."
Getting to the final game was a difficult feat for both squads. The two Region 12 teams played Friday night with Manti earning the win. San Juan had to take on Parowan at 10 a.m. for another shot at the Templars. They prevailed 8-2 in that game and then surprised the Templars with an exciting 2-1 win. The victory meant a second game with a team they'd faced five times in one season.
The championship game was a thriller from the opening pitch. In the top of the second inning, Manti's Tauni McFarlane hit a home run to score the game's first run. Just when it looked pitcher Abby Bayles might be getting tired, the sophomore found a way to keep the batter's off balance. It was McFarlane again in the fourth inning who led off with a single and then scored on Kamee Christensen's single to left field.
Just when it looked like Manti's 2-0 lead might be enough, the Broncos unleashed their offense in the bottom of the fifth. Senior Heather Meyer ripped a double to get it started, followed by Briona Law's single. A sacrifice bunt by Jeannie Kirk advanced the runners to second and third. Sophomore Kelsi Meyer then took the first pitch and hit it over the fence in left centerfield.
That's when Kaitlyn Hatch took over as pitcher, Tauni McFarlane moved to short and McKenzie Hatch moved to first base. The move shut down the Broncos offense and then Manti found their own offensive rhythm in the top of the sixth. McFarlane earned a single to get on base and then Chelsea Cox hit a deep fly to left field that looked like a home run. San Juan's Cassi Hosler made a spectacular catch, the momentum of which carried her over the fence. Because she went out of play, McFarlane was sent back to third. But she scored two batters later when Kamee Christensen got on base on a San Juan fielding error.
Coach Hatch said that the team discussed the philosophy that's helped them stay on top of a very tough region all season.
"What do you do when you fall down?" she asked them. "You get back up. You don't stop until it's all done."
For San Juan the loss was devastating, despite the fact that they'd lost a lot of seniors to graduation from last year's championship team.
"They worked their behinds off," said Broncos coach Craig Swenson. "Everyday in practice, it was go, go, go."
Adds assistant coach Monte Lee, "They rose up to create their own identity, their own tradition."
Both coaches had great admiration for the opposing players and coaches.
"San Juan have good hitters, good players and they're good sports," said Susan hatch. "It's sad that someone has to lose that game."
2A Softball All-Tournament Team
MVP — McKenzie Hatch, Manti
Haley Hatch, Manti
Kaitlyn Hatch, Manti
Tauni McFarlane, Manti
McKenzie Blauer, Manti
Chelsea Cox, Manti
Sagan Shumway, San Juan
Heather Meyer, San Juan
Cassi Hosler, San Juan
Danielle Wilson, San Juan
Abby Bayles, San Juan
Mindy Rasmusson, Parowan
Rickie Warr, Parowan
Laci Dolphin, Grand
Shanea Downard, Grand