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Shawntell Shepherd
The Skyhawks celebrate after the last out. Salem Hills defeated Murray 3-0 in the second round of the 4A State Tournament on May 16.

From the opening warmups, Salem Hills knew it was facing a tough opponent in the Murray Spartans. Both teams came to play and left it all on the field. It took some timely hitting and a record-setting 16th shutout of the season by the Skyhawks to defeat the Spartans, 3-0.

Before the game, Skyhawks coach Renae Kinghorn said, “Murray is a tough team with a winning tradition, so I know they are going to come out ready to play … and so will we. The girls want to protect our house. They are peaking at the right time and having fun.”

The Spartans’ Emma Noble started off with a single, advanced to second on a passed ball, then stole third. It looked to be a great start for Murray. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they could only muster a pop-up to first baseman Kenzie Martin, sandwiched between two Kirtlyn Bohling (11 K’s) strikeouts before the inning was over.

The first two times through the order for the Skyhawks were uneventful, except for a pair of singles by right-fielder Alex Oveson, who has been very consistent of late.

Referring to her consistent hitting, Oveson said, “I picture the spin of the ball, see it and hit it. It doesn’t matter if I strike out, there is no point of being afraid.”

Her early hitting bolstered the Skyhawks' confidence that they could hit against Vanessa Brambila. Except for two singles by Oveson and another by Amelia Weight, Brambila shut Salem Hills down time after time by forcing easy grounders and routine pop-ups to Murray’s stellar defense for the first five innings.

In the sixth, Salem Hills put things together on offense. Martin led off with a base on balls. Brambila was then replaced by freshman Erin Hohnholt half way through the count on Tiffany Madson. Madsen laid down a bunt for a single, placing runners on first and second.

Enter Abbie Tuttle.

Tuttle said, “If I don’t get on the first two at bats, I know I will the next one. With two strikes on me, I was nervous, but when I looked at Kirtlyn, she told me, ‘You’ve got this, no worries.’ That relaxed me, because I know she has confidence in me.”

Tuttle drove the next pitch into the outfield grass, scoring Martin to break the deadlock. Bohling then flew out to center field for the sacrifice RBI, scoring Madson.

Kinghorn said, “Tiffany was the perfect runner to have at third in that situation. With a deep fly ball, there was no way she wasn’t getting home.”

Ashley Whiting followed that up with a perfectly executed squeeze bunt to score Tuttle.

Kinghorn said, “Abbie trusted (Whiting) and went for home on the pitch.”

Tuttle finished, “We have been in tough situations all year and we have come through. We just have that mindset. We are confident, but we know that we have to work for it.”

But a tough team doesn’t quit, and Murray was no exception.

Pinch hitter Kayla Durfee opened the seventh with a well-earned base on balls. That was followed by a single by Courtney Beavers, putting pressure on the Skyhawk defense.

But Salem Hills was able to weather the storm with ground-outs to Martin, Bohling and Kenzie Cowden to finish the inning and preserve the win.

Kinghorn finished, “Murray was fundamentally sharp the whole game on defense. That is a really good team we beat today.”

The Skyhawks move on to face No. 1 ranked Box Elder on Tuesday, while Murray drops to the one loss bracket to play Bonneville.

Troy Bohling is the coordinator of school services for Nebo School District. He was previously an assistant principal at Salem Hills High School from 2008-12. His daughter Kirtlyn plays for Salem Hills. He can be contacted at troy.bohling@nebo.edu.