SPANISH FORK — Manti senior Lizzy Palmer never stands in the batter’s box alone.
“I like to say I have angels in the outfield,” she said after helping the top-ranked Templars to a 2A state softball championship with an 8-4 victory over last year’s champion, San Juan, Saturday at the Spanish Fork Softball Complex. “I not only play for myself, but I play for my teammates, my coaches, my community and my family.”
In fact, the entire team feels like the letters stitched across their uniforms represent more than just the girls on the roster or the teens at the high school.
“We didn’t do this for ourselves,” Palmer said. “We did it for everyone around us too.”
The Templars were disappointed not to even make last year’s championship game. They struggled with challenges on the field and with heartbreak in their lives away from softball. But through it all, they found that by working for each other, they were strong enough to accomplish something their entire community could be proud of.
“There were things that happened in their lives, and they just came together to make the best of any situation,” said Manti head coach Susan Hatch. “That feeling (of winning a title) is hard to describe. It’s the feeling that you worked hard and you’re being rewarded.”
The Templars faced their toughest challenge in the championship game as San Juan scored more runs in one game than all their other opponents had in the other tournament games combined. They ended with a 61-7 advantage against other 2A teams.
“This is so awesome,” Hatch said. "The girls worked so hard. We’ve had some hardships the last couple of years, but the girls worked hard and played well.”
Palmer lost her brother, Jeremy, to a drug overdose last fall, but she wasn’t the only player to struggle with despair.
The team wears a patch dedicating the 2013 season to senior Kemri Stilson’s father, Kevin, who died last March. She couldn’t stop the tears after the championship celebration began near the pitcher’s circle.
“We struggled with our ups and downs, but we always played for those who love us,” Stilson said. “We represent everyone around us. Last year was a huge disappointment, but this feels so right, so good.”
Palmer said she feels Jeremy’s love and support, even though she no longer sees her big brother’s smile in the stands.
“The last time we took state, my brother was here,” she said wiping away tears. “I dedicate some of my at bats to him. I know Jeremy is with me all the time. When I can’t go anymore, he’s the one who picks me up and helps me go the extra mile.”
Palmer fielded the last grounder of Saturday’s championship game and made a perfect throw to senior Takisha McFarlane, who entered the game just for one batter because she broke her thumb last weekend in a non-region game against Taylorsville.
“I had a vision,” she said laughing. “I saw that play before it even happened.”
The routine play ended a spectacular season in which the team lost just a single game — against 5A’s Taylorsville.
Senior pitcher Kami Thomson threw another outstanding game against one of the state’s best in San Juan’s Tatiana Su’e Su’e. It was up to each team’s defense to stop the other team as each pitcher allowed 10 hits, and only three batters benefited from walks.
The Broncos jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but a couple of untimely errors in the first inning allowed the Templars to score five runs in the first inning. Both teams made the game interesting, trading hits while the defenses made some great plays, including a catch by Manti left fielder Arie Naylor on a long foul off the bat of Su’e Su’e, who had a home run to tie the earlier game against South Summit. San Juan ended up winning that 4-3 in eight innings.
San Juan head coach Craig Swenson said he was proud of his team for never giving up throughout a tough tournament.
“It’s been a lot of emotions today,” Swenson said. “The girls didn’t quit. We just tried to win innings.”
He said Saturday’s title contest was the best his team played against the Templars in their three meetings this season.
“We’ve had a few ups and downs, but these girls stuck together for the most part and worked hard for each other,” he said. “It wasn’t just one person. It was the whole team.”
Which is exactly what the Templars said helped them earn the 2A championship.
“This whole state championship was about leaving our legacy as Templars,” Palmer said of how the team changed after last year’s disappointing finish.
And while that legacy might include hard work, dedication and excellence, it also includes the power of trust.
“We trust each other,” Stilson said, “in every single way possible.”