It’s so much better to hit without pressure, isn’t it? That just shows that when you’re swinging free and swinging easy that good things happen. So I hope we can take that mentality into (Thursday). —Renae Kinghorn, Salem Hills softball coach
TAYLORSVILLE — After the way these two teams battled in a pair of one-run thrillers during Region 8 regular-season play, there’s no way anyone could’ve possibly seen this coming.
But Salem Hills, led by the hitting and pitching of junior right-hander Kirtlyn Bohling, rolled into the 4A softball state championship game for the second-straight year with a 16-2 rout of mistake-plagued region rival Provo on Wednesday at the Valley Complex.
With Wednesday’s lopsided win, the Skyhawks (23-3) soar into Thursday's 4A title game at 5 p.m., when they’ll face the winner of an earlier Thursday matchup between Box Elder and Provo. Salem Hills, which lost in last year’s championship game, would have to lose twice to be denied its first state title in school history.
Box Elder bounced back from Tuesday’s tough loss to Salem Hills to blast Region 5 foes Roy and Bonneville by respective scores of 10-0 and 9-0 on Wednesday, sending the Bees (26-2) into Thursday's 2:30 p.m. semifinal elimination game against the Bulldogs (21-8).
Over the first six shutout innings, Bohling scattered four Provo hits before the Bulldogs’ Lindsay Rowley crushed a two-run homer with one out in the bottom of the seventh. By then, though, Salem Hills had already built an insurmountable 16-run lead, capitalizing on Provo’s numerous errors and walks to take a 6-0 lead after four innings before breaking it open with a 10-run outburst in the seventh.
“It’s so much better to hit without pressure, isn’t it?” Salem Hills coach Renae Kinghorn said of her team's final-inning explosion, when the Skyhawks strung together nine base hits along with two walks. “That just shows that when you’re swinging free and swinging easy that good things happen. So I hope we can take that mentality into (Thursday).”
Bohling wound up allowing seven hits while striking out seven Bulldog batters with just one base on balls. And at the plate, she smacked three of her team’s 15 base hits and knocked in five runs while scoring twice herself.
“I think scoring in the first two, three innings is really important,” Bohling said. “It got us mentally in it and gave us a little bit of breathing room so we could just relax and play how we should.
“It was a good game; it wasn’t the best,” she said of her pitching performance, “but I was happy with that (the five RBIs). I was a little bit mad (about losing the shutout in the last inning), but we had it still and my teammates kept me in it.
“We came up a little bit short last year, but this year I’m confident,” Bohling said. “We know whatever team is here to play, they’re here to play and they’re gonna go hard and we have to play from the first inning to the last until it’s over. I just want to play.”
While Bohling’s defense played almost perfectly around her, committing just one meaningless error that was subsequently wiped out by a double play, the Provo Bulldogs hurt themselves with numerous costly miscues. They committed six errors, all of which led to or contributed greatly to Salem Hills’ early scoring.
And Provo pitcher Taylor Allman, let down by her team’s defensive misfortunes, hurt herself by walking six batters through the first three innings.
“Those (walks and errors) were costly and we had to take advantage of their catcher — she shuttled a little bit and ... I think she’s hurt, I really do, because she’s been better in the past,” said Kinghorn, whose team lost to Provo 4-3 in eight innings and beat the Bulldogs 1-0 in their regular-season meetings. “So the margin for error in this game is so close when we normally play them that I thought we just needed to score as many runs as we possibly can.
“We are not an extremely fast team, so it was a risk to steal bases at the beginning. But it paid off. And I didn’t think that they would expect it, so took their catcher by surprise and frazzled them and gave us some momentum at the beginning.
“We didn’t hit the ball extremely well at the beginning of the game," Kinghorn said, "and so we needed to manufacture runs somehow. I knew that Kirtlyn would have a pretty good game. It was a very weird game all around."
Salem Hills senior catcher Kaylee Simons walked three times, knocked in three runs and scored twice, and then she donned her cap and gown for an impromptu graduation ceremony at home plate following the Skyhawks’ victory.
Abbie Tuttle had three hits, a pair of RBIs and scored four runs, while Amelia Weight had a pair of singles and two more RBIs and Tiffany Madson had two more hits and crossed home plate three times to help put Salem Hills one win away from the state championship.
“What I’ve learned with this group of girls is that I just try not to overcoach them,” Kinghorn said. “I feel like a lot of times coaches say too much and then it kind of freaks people out. And we’re a young team and I kind of like our ignorance, if that’s the right word. You start putting tons of pressure on them — ‘You lose this game and you’ve got to play three tomorrow, and Kirtlyn can’t pitch every game’ — ... and it starts to work ’em up.
“So basically I just treated it like a normal game, and that’s the beauty of softball is that it doesn’t change — you have to run; you have to throw; you have to catch. As long as we control what we can control, I think we’ll be successful. I’m not a very high-pressure person; I’m kind of a laid-back person. We know we can beat any team here, we know we can, and I think that confidence is good. And I’ll tell you what: Getting that many runs in the last inning, I think, was a huge boost for our bats that struggled on and off over the year.
“My heart breaks for Taylor (Allman). I know she was hurting; she’s pitched a lot this week,” the Skyhawks’ coach said. “The softy in me, my heart hurts for her that we crushed her, and I think everybody was surprised that we did because we haven’t done it all year.”