HYRUM — Prep softball teams from the valley certainly made their presence felt at the Utah 4A state tournament this past spring.
At times Region 12 does not get the respect that is shown to schools from Utah County and the St. George area. However, all four teams that qualified reached the quarterfinals. That’s right, half the field remaining at that point was from Region 12, which included three Cache Valley schools.
Each of those local teams turned some heads and made some noise at state. They each had athletes who rose to the occasion.
Haylee Brown was certainly one who shined. The 18-year-old daughter of Cody and Christy Brown did all she could to try and extend the Mountain Crest season for as long as possible. The senior was sad to see it end.
“I definitely miss it already and it’s super hard to move on, but I really wouldn’t change anything,” Brown said. “I knew from the beginning of the season we were going to have a tough region. I just practiced as hard as I could. I knew every game could be my last, and I just played my heart out down to the end.”
Yes, she did. In her second-to-last game in a Mustang uniform, she blasted two home runs and pitched Mountain Crest to a 8-5 win in an elimination game against Region 10 champion Uintah. She called that game one of her highlights of the 2019 season.
“We were all so excited and so hyped,” Brown said. “That was our highest energy game ever, and we all came out and played like all-stars.”
It was a snapshot of the Mustangs’ season. After several hard years of dealing with new school boundaries and getting used to a different head coach, Mountain Crest was back challenging for the region title, finishing second with an 8-2 record and sweeping all the valley schools.
“I feel like we had a good year,” Brown said. “We had a solid team. I had a solid team behind me with our defense. We all just had each others’ backs and I think that’s what made it. We had super great team chemistry. That’s hard to come by. … It was nice to come out on top in the valley this year.”
Brown was a big reason for the Mustangs’ resurgence. That helped her edge some other athletes in being named the 2019 Herald Journal All-Valley Softball Player of the Year.
“Haylee was a solid team leader,” MC coach Courtnee Maughan said. “... She does so many things for the team.”
Brown was gracious when told of her selection, as well as being selected to the 4A all-state team.
“It means a ton to me,” said Brown, who made the All-Valley team the past two seasons. “I started pitching when I was only in U12, so I felt like I was an underdog coming up. I worked my butt off. All the practices, all the late nights, all the early mornings, all the practices when I was tired just paid off.”
It also helped her get a scholarship to Walla Walla (Washington) Community College. She had several offers but decided on the Warriors, who went 31-16 last season, because of the schools’ veterinary program and the opportunity to battle for the starting pitching position as former Bear River star Abby Giles just graduated.
“I was recruited for both hitting and pitching,” Brown said. “I sent my college coach newspaper articles and stats and he was like, ‘I can’t wait to have your hot bat up here,’ and said ‘you are pitching lights out.’”
Brown was looking at schools in the Pacific Northwest because there are several with veterinary programs. She did some showcases through the Fastpitch Northwest program to get seen. It worked.
“When I visited Walla Walla, it felt like home to me, felt like Cache Valley,” Brown said. “It’s not a super big town. I had an offer right outside of Seattle, but that was super crazy. Walla Walla felt like home and had exactly what I wanted to study.”
She loves all animals, wanting to work with big and small. A year ago she started volunteering at the Nibley Heritage Animal Hospital.
The teenager also likes both hitting and pitching. It was hard for her to choose which she likes best and she is looking forward to doing both in college.
“It depends on the game,” Brown said, pausing. “I would have to say hitting. Hitting is my stress relief. It’s always been something I felt I’ve been pretty decent at. You can go up to the plate and let your body take over. Pitching is still super fun because you are in control of the game, but there are always high stress situations and you have to handle them.”
This past season Brown came up clutch many times at the plate. She finished with a .567 batting percentage, .628 on-base percentage and a 1.164 slugging percentage. Brown led the team with 13 doubles, nine home runs and 30 RBIs, and had a couple of triples.
In the circle, she pitched more than 131 innings of the Mustangs’ 145 on the season. Brown had 151 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.61.
So, what is more thrilling, hitting a home run or getting a strikeout?
“Definitely hitting a home run,” Brown said. “Strikeouts are half you, a fourth your pitching coach and a fourth your catcher. A home run is all you.”
She had a goal to hit 10 home runs for the season — double what she had a year ago. Brown just missed it.
“The only really goals I had this year was to focus more on first-pitch strikes when pitching and not getting so far behind,” Brown said. “I also had a goal of 10 home runs.”
Brown has worked hard on her craft. Her dad’s shop in Mount Sterling has the visible proof. She works more on pitching and credited her dad for practicing with her.
“I feel like pitching is more technical work, and hitting you just need to make sure you are seeing the ball often and you’re able to keep your swing nice and in check,” Brown said.
In her pitching arsenal, the Mustang has a fastball, a screwball, a changeup, a curve ball, a rise ball and occasionally a drop ball is in the mix. Brown called her screwball her “go-to pitch.”
“I love my screwball,” Brown said. “Even if it’s 3-0, I will throw a screwball. I don’t think many batters will expect that, because they are thinking she is going to pipe it and try and get a strike when it’s 3-0, but I feel like if you are not pitching your best that day, it’s an option, but if you are super accurate with one pitch, why not go with it.”
A big part of her pitching success comes with having a familiar battery mate. Lindzee Steinmetz has been with Brown since she started pitching.
“Lindzee knows exactly when my pitches are going to break, where I miss sometimes and she just sticks it and frames it so well,” Brown said. “I have to take my hat off to her. ... To be a good pitcher, you have to have a great catcher because you can pitch movement pitches all day, but if your catcher catches it and takes it out, you are not going to get the call. She knew me inside and out.”
Brown, who also played basketball at Mountain Crest, started playing softball after hanging up her soccer cleats. A friend from school invited her to a tryout and she “somehow” made the team. That was 12 years ago.
“I’ve loved softball ever since,” Brown said. “It’s my true love.”
That made having a successful softball season sweet for Brown. She had just finished her freshman season when Ridgeline High School opened. She saw many teammates become Riverhawks, as well as her coach. While it was tough, she is happy for those who stuck together at Mountain Crest.
While she would have liked to have won a few more games — especially one against Spanish Fork in which the Mustangs led 4-0 in the quarterfinals — looking back now she is happy.
“Oh my gosh, I still have nightmares about that game (Spanish Fork),” Brown said. “That game was definitely hard. The two lightening delays really hurt our mojo that we had going. We had to take our adrenaline, put it on pause and re-warm up and try and keep it going. They (Dons) just ended up on top.”
Brown would like to be remembered as a team leader and someone who tried to be friends with everyone. Creating a family bond was important.
She also made it a point to thank her parents and coaches.
“My dad has always pushed me; he has always caught for me or thrown BP,” Brown said. “I’ve dented the crap out of his shop. My mom has always been a big motivator. My pitching coach, Dani Chapland, is the greatest. I wouldn’t be where I am without her and Courtnee (Maughan) for sticking with the program and getting me to where I am today.”
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
TEAGAN HALL, FR., MOUNTAIN CRESTFor the second year in a row a Mustang gets the nod for this award. Hall played like a veteran, mostly at third base.
“Teagan was calm, confident and handles pressure like an upperclassman,” Maughan said. “She sure didn’t play like a freshman.”
Hall finished with a .343 batting average, including many clutch hits. Her on-base percentage was .380, while she had four doubles, two home runs, 11 RBIs and scored 13 runs. Even playing the hot corner, the freshman had a fielding percentage of .986.
NYA LAING, SR., LOGAN
A serious candidate for Player of the Year, Laing has been a regular on the All-Valley team since earning Newcomer of the Year accolades as a freshman. Laing was an all-state selection and had another great season while dealing with a vision problem that required emergency surgery to reattach the retina in her left eye soon after the high school season.
Laing led the Grizzlies in home runs with seven, triples with two, doubles with nine, batting average at .433 and on-base percentage at .523. She pitched 133 innings, striking out 172 and having an ERA of 1.9. She has a full-ride scholarship to play at Salt Lake Community College.
TIA WASHINGTON, JR., RIDGELINE
This junior battled through some injuries but still managed to play a big role in the Riverhawks making it far at state. Plus, she got the job done in the circle and at the plate.
Washington went 17-10 as a pitcher with two saves, while striking out 155 and having an ERA of 2.89. She hit .297 with six doubles, two home runs and 28 RBIs.
KAMRYN LAING, JR., LOGANThis Grizzly has been a regular on the All-Valley team since her freshman season. She is a steady force behind the plate, catching her sister or any other Grizzly.
She hit .357 with an on-base percentage of .438, and had five doubles.
LINDZEE STEINMETZ, SR., MOUNTAIN CREST
This Mustang was a honorable mention selection a year ago and the battery mate of Brown. She was behind the plate for most of the Mustangs games and every region contest. Steinmetz only had six passed balls all season.
The speedster didn’t always get to run the bases, but when she did was a threat to steal and take extra bases. She finished with seven stolen bases, scored nine runs, had 17 RBIs, three doubles, two home runs and batted .267.
BROOKLYN ANDERSON, SR., RIDGELINEThis Riverhawk also dealt with some missed games due to injury, but was able to bounce back and earn a repeat spot on the All-Valley team. She mostly played second base and saw some time at shortstop.
Anderson hit .308 with seven doubles, a triple, a team-best 30 RBIs and scored 17 runs.
MIKELLE SORENSEN, SR., SKY VIEW
This Bobcat earned honorable mention recognition last year. The shortstop was one of the team leaders.
Sorensen led the team in hitting at .393, including five doubles, a triple and five stolen bases. She had a fielding percentage of .890.
MCKENNA PETERSON, SR., GREEN CANYON
This senior also made the team a year ago. The third baseman was solid once again and tried to lead a team with many young players.
Peterson hit .389 and had an on-base percentage of .522.
CHEYENNE WEEKES, SR., LOGAN
This Grizzly is a repeat honoree. The shortstop provided leadership with the other seniors.
She hit .389, had an on-base percentage of .505, drew 20 walks, had four doubles and one home run.
MAYSEN BRYSON, JR., MOUNTAIN CREST
The Mustang first baseman is also a repeat honoree. She only missed seven innings all season and did not commit an error the whole year.
Bryson showed great leadership as well. She hit .288 with five doubles, 10 RBIs and scored 12 runs.
MADISON BERTAGNOLI, SO., MOUNTAIN CREST
This young Mustang picked up right where she left off a year ago when she was named the All-Valley Newcomer of the Year. She continued to play well on offense and defense.
The sophomore hit .321 with three doubles, 16 runs and stole seven bases. Her fielding percentage at second base was .966.
KENZEE HALE, FR., RIDGELINE
This Riverhawk was considered for Newcomer of the Year. The freshman was entrusted to play at shortstop most of the season.
She hit .368 with an on-base percentage of .429 while having five doubles, a triple, two home runs, 14 RBIs and scoring 26 runs.
SAYGE KELLER, SR., PRESTON
Last year she was listed as an honorable mention player, but made the step up this season to the first team. She played third base and was the team’s lead-off hitter.
Keller hit .409 with seven doubles, 13 RBIs and 17 runs.
TYLER THORNTON, SR., RIDGELINEThe 2018 Player of the Year had a slow start to her senior season because of an injury, but certainly made up for a handful of games missed. The future Utah State Aggie was strongly considered for the main award again this year.
Thornton, who was the lead-off batter, led her team in hits (33), runs (41), doubles (8), triples (4), home runs (5), walks (12), stolen bases (24), hitting percentage (.562), on-base percentage (.632), slugging percentage (.910) and fielding percentage (.972). She also had 22 RBIs.
KEIKO SCHWARTZ, SR., SKY VIEW
This Bobcat was a triple threat — at the plate, running the bases and in the field. She ran down many balls hit anywhere near her and come up big at the plate when her teammates struggled.
Schwartz was a honorable mention pick last year. She hit .383 with six doubles, three triples and stole 11 bases. She had a fielding percentage of .915.
JOCI NORRIS, SR., LOGAN
This athlete has been honored several times and continued to shine as a senior. She came up with some clutch hits at the state tournament.
Norris hit .383 with an on-base percentage of .464, while hitting two home runs, two triples and a double. She only struck out four times all season.
ANA TIDROW, SR., MOUNTAIN CREST
This Mustang was an amazing fielder with a great arm. She did not commit an error on the season and makes the team after being honorable mention a year ago.
At the plate, Tidrow hit .400 with six doubles, a home run, 12 RBIs and scored 20 runs. She was the lead-off batter most of the season for the Mustangs.
JERICA BLOTTER, JR., GREEN CANYON
This junior was one of the bright spots for the Wolves in a season with many struggles. She had a knack for always getting at least one hit in a game when teammates were struggling.
Blotter hit .387 and scored six runs. In the field, she did not commit an error.
AREE KIDMAN, SR., RIDGELINE
This Riverhawk was a honorable mention honoree last year, but worked her way up to the first team this season.
She hit .346 with an on-base percentage of .409 while recording six doubles, three home runs, 25 runs, 21 RBIs and drew 10 walks.
ASHLYNN SPARKS, JR., PRESTONThis honorable mention player from a year ago was the best hitter for the Indians, as well as solid in the field wherever she was needed. The good news is she still has another year to play.
Sparks hit .492 with 10 doubles, a triple, a home run, had 19 RBIs and scored 20 runs.