SPANISH FORK — It’s not what Bear River coach Calvin Bingham saw on the field Saturday afternoon that led him to believe his players could upset top-ranked Spanish Fork to earn the 4A softball title.
It’s what he saw them do the last couple of weeks when no one else was watching.
“Last year we had an outstanding team, but, the last two weeks, I felt like we didn’t have good practices,” Bingham said after the Bears defeated top-ranked Spanish Fork in a 5-4 thriller that ended with a walk-off single from Oaklee Trapp that allowed Kapri Toone to score. “I challenged these kids to get in and work hard, right to the end. And that’s what they’ve done.”
Led by a ‘gritty’ group of seniors including pitcher Kapri Toone, shortstop Taylor Fox and center fielder Mercedes Call, the Bears earned the program’s ninth softball state championship. En route to that title, the squad had to beat two of the state’s best teams — top-ranked Spanish Fork and second-ranked Tooele — that had defeated them earlier in the season.
And if there is one thing the Bears learned in the 14-7 beat down Spanish Fork delivered in their first meeting this season, it was that if they wanted revenge, they better work to serve it quickly — and without hope.
“I was both looking forward to it and a little nervous,” said Toone, who pitched every game of the state tournament.
“They’re a good team. We were expecting them to come back (through the one-loss bracket).
Because the tournament is double-elimination, the Bears actually had two games to beat the Dons. That, however, was not a safety net that made them feel very secure.
“I was hoping for just one,” Toone said, laughing. “I’m glad it ended that way.” She would have pitched the second game, and she said that can be tough on a defense.
“It’s pretty hard,” she said. “I’ll throw the same pitches, and they’ll still be able to hit them.”
The Dons earned nine hits to Bear River’s 10 hits, and both teams had one fielding error. Catcher Brylee Rudd started Spanish Fork’s scoring when she got on base on a double. Aislyn Sharp, second base, stepped to the plate behind her and hit a home run to tie the game.
The next inning, Trinity Benson reached first on a fielder’s choice, and then scored on a single from Jordyn Bate. Toone wasn’t alone in her concern about a second game, as Fox, who started the scoring with a home run, and then smacked a second two-run home run to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, expressed her own reservations about extending the season by another game.
“I definitely didn’t want to play another game,” she said as her teammates chanted her name. “I thought, ‘We’ve got to do it.’ I just knew that we wouldn’t have done as well if we carried it on into a second game. I knew our confidence would have been a little bit worse. So I knew we had to get it taken care of.”
Call, who will play at Salt Lake Community College next season, confirmed what Bingham said he saw at practices.
"Toward the end (of the season) we really started to come together as a team," she said. "All of the girls were just playing really well, and we hit well. ...We just love each other."
The Bears started the game impressively, as both Fox and Toone hit solo home runs. Unfortunately, the Bears didn’t manage to score again until the bottom of the seventh, thanks to some great plays at home by the Dons’ catcher Brylee Rudd and a hit by Ashley Hess that rolled out-of-play and turned a two-run home run into a double without the RBI.
The game featured some jaw-dropping defensive plays, but none more spectacular than Dons’ center fielder Marae Condi’s diving catch that robbed Bears’ Kati Gibbs of a beautiful hit as leadoff in the seventh inning.
Sadie Call reached first on a field error, and then Fox hit her two-run home run tying the game. Spanish Fork’s defense got that third out, after which Toone smacked a double, making herself the winning run.
The Dons opted to walk Hess, setting up a force out at three of the four bases. A passed ball advanced both runners, and then Trapp hit a hard grounder and beat the throw to first as Ashley Mickleson, who was running for Toone, scored the game-winning run.
Bingham praised his seniors, especially their work ethic and leadership.
“They’ve been the real backbone of this team,” he said. “We’ll miss them.”
And what will they miss about their rowdy, talented teammates?
“I’m going to miss the girls,” Fox said as they surrounded her, screaming and celebrating, during an interview with a horde of media, including TV cameras. “They are my favorite part of softball.”