They love each other and that is what it comes down to. —West coach Keith Lopati
HERRIMAN — As befits two teams of their caliber, the second-round clash between the West Panthers and Herriman Mustangs had it all. Monster homers, timely strikeouts, game-changing rallies, incredible defensive plays, the list goes on and on. And yet, at the end of Thursday afternoon’s epic contest, West head coach Keith Lopati pointed to a most unexpected reason for his girls 13-12 upset victory.
“They love each other and that is what it comes down to,” said Lopati. “They love this game of softball, and they love playing against competition like Herriman. It was a great softball game.”
Great is but one way to describe what happened. The teams combined for 25 runs, on 25 hits, including two homers, three triples and five doubles, while the pitchers, five in total, combined to strike out 10 batters.
Both teams rallied from five run deficits, and both teams failed to execute at the most inopportune times.
West starting pitcher Mikala Ulibarri, who pitched to all but two Herriman batters, perhaps said it best.
“(This game) was pretty exciting. My adrenaline is still up,” said Ulibarri. “I am so happy my team had my back. They were just always there for me.”
That was especially evident after the initial Mustang barrage. Riding a seven-game winning streak, the hosts came out on fire. Mikaela Thomson crushed a two-run homer, and then showed off the rare softball bat flip, in the first inning. Starting pitcher Libby Parkinson added three more runs for Herriman in the third, with a bases-clearing double.
Trailing 5-0, West seemed in danger of getting wiped from the game altogether.
“When they scored the five (runs) we were kind of down on ourselves,” said Ulibarri.
That feeling didn’t last for very long, however.
Keisha White led off the fourth with a triple, which led to an almost immediate momentum shift. By the end of the inning, West had plated three runs, thanks in part to RBI singles by Jazmin Rollin and Daisy Taloa.
The very next inning, West erupted for six additional runs, knocking Parkinson from the game in the process.
“Our girls have been resilient the whole year,” said Lopati. “They believe in what we are doing and it showed.”
Riding high, West added yet another run in the sixth, on a RBI triple by Asia Fauga, and seemed incapable of doing any wrong.
“We had each other’s backs,” said Ulibarri.
Herriman was not done yet though, and the Mustangs cut the score to 10-7 on a two-run Thomson double.
On any other day, holding a 13-7 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning would assuredly mean an easy win, but of course that was not the case Thursday.
The Mustangs battered Ulibarri, and her brief replacement Kamora Masina, to the tune of five runs. Jilina Mercier, Dayna Hokanson, and Thomson each drove in runs, the later two with RBI doubles. Krystal Kemp notched an RBI of her own, with a single, her only hit of the game. (Kemp initially appeared to hit a game-winning inside-the-park home run, but it was ruled a foul ball, much to the dismay of the home crowd.)
With her team trailing by just a run, and a runner on base no less, Parkinson stepped into the batter's box with the chance to tie or win the game for Herriman.
In the duel between starting pitchers, Ulibarri proved the better, striking out Parkinson to end the game.
“I was just trying to get a strike, so my team could field the ball and get the out,” said Ulibarri. This time, the sophomore had her team’s back.