This team believes that they can do anything. —Grantsville coach Heidi Taylor
SPANISH FORK — Alese Casper keeps the pressure of the playoffs at bay with her jokes.
“I think I’m funny,” the senior pitcher said after earning two wins in Friday’s 3A tournament to give Grantsville a berth into Saturday’s championship game. “I don’t know if other people do.”
Whether she has a future in comedy or not, Casper proved her mettle Friday with a 1-0 win against third-ranked and defending state champion Bear River and then a 4-1 victory over fourth-ranked Ridgeline.
Grantsville coach Heidi Taylor said the team’s confidence and cohesiveness comes from that playful, joyful energy.
“This team believes that they can do anything,” she said, stopping to choke back tears. “It’s because of the four seniors. They’re just leaders; they were just born that way. They don’t come out each day and say, ‘I’m going to lead.’ Kids just want to be like them. They’re fun.”
It was a double in the fourth inning from one of those seniors, Reannon Justice, that gave the Cowboys an offensive spark. With one out, Justice got on base with a double, and then Kylee Leach reached first on an error. Addison Smith’s single scored Justice, and Leach was called safe after Ridgeline’s catcher was called for obstruction.
Senior Breanna Dzerzon scored a run in the fifth inning off of Brayle Crossman’s sacrifice fly. Then Heather Butler scored the fourth run on a home run in the sixth inning.
Kenzie Bishop scored Ridgeline’s only run in the seventh on a hit from Alleigh May.
The Cowboys almost had their third shutout in a row, which came because of their defense as Casper only had three strikeouts against the Riverhawks.
“Our defense is probably as good as it’s ever been,” she said. “And if Alese is throwing well, she’s going to give them balls where (we) can make plays. We know Alese is a great pitcher, and we know with her on the mound that we have a good opportunity to beat any team.”
Crossman, who catches for Casper, said she never had any doubts about her pitcher’s ability to lead them to a championship by winning back-to-back games against ranked teams.
“From the get-go, you knew she was mentally and physically ready to go,” Crossman said. “I knew she could handle everything she was given. She is by far the most mentally tough person. She’s harder on herself than anybody else can be on her.” Crossman said that her job is to simply remind Casper that she’s not alone.
“I’m just the person to make her feel good about herself,” she said. “I just make her feel confident, that’s my job.”
Casper, who said she has always been drawn to the pressure and control of pitching, said she doesn’t worry about stats or strike-outs or shutouts.
“It’s a team game,” she said. “I just want to get a win.”
Grantsville has never won a 3A softball title, as its last championship came when it played in 2A. Despite her team’s perennial success, Saturday will be Taylor’s first appearance as a head coach in the championship game.
It doesn’t matter who the Cowboys get or what they bring to the field, Grantsville’s focus will be on its own abilities.
“What we want to focus on is putting runs on the board,” Taylor said, “and then just making sure that when we get opportunities to make plays that we do that.”
Defending 3A state champion Bear River showed why it’s a perennial contender Friday. After losing 1-0 to Grantsville, the Bears came from behind to beat Juab 4-3 with a walk-off single and then earned another victory over Tooele 3-2 for the opportunity to play Ridgeline Saturday morning.
The winner of the Ridgeline-Bear River game will face Grantsville in the 3A title game at noon.