MURRAY — With the Region 7 championship up for grabs Tuesday afternoon, Herriman softball coach Staci Hemingway put the game ball and her trust in the hands of a freshman. Bryce Taylor rewarded her for that move.
The youngster scattered four hits over seven innings, and enjoyed a strong day at the plate as well to lift the Mustangs to an impressive 5-2 victory over Murray to clinch the league title.
“She’s awesome. She’s always been a competitor. I’ve known her since she was 8. That’s who she is, and I didn’t expect anything less,” said Hemingway.
Murray and Herriman both owned 8-1 records heading into Tuesday’s region finale, but the Mustangs avenged an earlier 10-9 loss to Murray in a big way to claim the No. 1 seed for next week’s 4A state tournament.
Ashley Shetler, Alexis Duncan and Taylor all recorded two hits to lead the Herriman hit parade.
“It feels so good, especially being a senior and it’s only our third year. It’s freaking awesome. I feel so good right now,” said Duncan, whose diving catch on a line drive to center in the seventh helped deny a Murray comeback.
Herriman’s defense wasn’t such an asset early on though. First-inning errors on a routine grounder and then a throw to first enabled Murray to take an early 1-0 lead.
Hemingway couldn’t have drawn up the adversity any better. She’s really emphasized to her team over the past week the importance of putting mistakes behind them quickly. That’s exactly what Herriman did Tuesday.
“Lately we’ve been working a lot on picking each other up, especially on defense, and that really helped us,” said Duncan.
Ironically enough, it was a two-out throwing error by Murray in the third inning that allowed Herriman to seize a 2-1 lead.
The real damage came in the fifth inning though, with the Mustangs scoring three runs on five singles. They could’ve easily tacked on more too with two of three outs coming at home plate, but Hemingway said she can live with those type of outs.
“We just teach aggressive base running all the way across. Whether you’re fast or not, you run. You make the other team make plays,” she said.
Murray made its fair share of defensive plays in that fifth inning, but Herriman kept responding with more hits to build a 5-1 lead.
The Spartans didn’t go quietly in the seventh as a trio of pinch hitters battled Taylor, including Maddison Fritsch hitting a towering RBI double off the left-field fence. However, Herriman's freshman pitcher didn’t get rattled and eventually closed the game with her third strikeout.
Herriman and Murray will now both turn their attention quickly to the playoffs, where they’ll host first-round games Tuesday. Hemingway is thrilled to be in that position.
“The first year we were on the other things, getting run-ruled and losing a lot of games. It’s amazing how far we’ve come from year 1 to year 3,” she said.