MILLVILLE — It was a dream season for the Ridgeline softball team.
Sure, there were a few hiccups along the way, but when it came time to play for a state title, the Riverhawks were focused. It took a team effort to capture the first-ever state trophy in the sport last month in St. George. It also took leadership, and Markessa Jensen certainly provided a big part of that.
The senior pitcher absolutely sparkled at the 4A State Tournament as the Riverhawks went 5-0 and outscored opponents by a combined 41-10 on their way to the championship. With Jensen in the circle, teams had a hard time scoring. She was named the 4A MVP.
“In the championship game against Bear River, the second game, I only had three strikeouts, so every other out was from my defense,” Jensen said. “I wouldn’t have been able to win without my defense. They play a really big part.”
In the pitching department over five games at state, Jensen struck out a total of 34 batters in 33 innings of work. She also came up big in the batter’s box with three home runs and 10 RBIs.
“I think she was the best pitcher at state,” Ridgeline head coach Mike Anderson said. “I think that’s the best she has ever pitched. I saw a confidence and glow in her.
“We talked about her winning the 4A MVP and she said, ‘you know, I only struck out three kids in the championship game, which means there are 18 outs that had to be made by my teammates.’ I love that about Kessa. Even though she played really good, she knew her teammates did too.”
Jensen is not only the state’s 4A MVP, but can also add the accolade of being named the 2022 Herald Journal All-Valley Softball Player of the Year.
“I’m honored to get awards like this,” Jensen said. “When people ask me about it, I will praise my teammates because I definitely would not have been able to get any of these awards without all of them and my coaches.”
Perhaps it’s in her DNA. Her sister, Mailee — also a pitcher — won the award in 2017.
“I just did it because my sister was doing it, and I wanted to play softball,” said Jensen said, who has two older sisters and twin younger brothers.
Jensen threw 137.2 innings of a possible 182 for Ridgeline this past season. She finished with a 22-3 record, which ties for the fourth most in the entire state. The teenager struck out 135 batters, while allowing 57 walks. She had an ERA of 2.847.
“I think she peaked at the right time when we needed her,” Anderson said. “Crimson Cliffs and Bear River have two of the stronger lineups in the state, and she held them at bay all tournament. I just couldn’t be more impressed with her physically, mentally and the way she approached things this year. She just got better as the year went on.”
While her pitching numbers are more than enough to earn MVP awards, Jensen also got it done at the plate. She hit .406 with an on-base percentage of .452 and a slugging percentage of .896. Her 11 home runs were the third most among 4A players, as were her 44 RBIs. Jensen led the team with three triples and had eight doubles, while scoring 17 runs and drew eight walks.
“I’ve put a lot of work in on hitting,” Jensen said. “My sophomore year I would go hit with my dad every night because I wasn’t hitting like I wanted to. We fixed a lot on my swing and really dialed in on my hitting. I was very happy with my hitting this year.”
The already loaded Ridgeline batting lineup definitely had room for the pitcher.
“The best thing about being a pitcher that can hit, if you don’t like the score, you have the ability to change it with your own bat,” Anderson said. “Markessa frequently did that, hitting in that three and four spot. You are going to get pitched to a little different as a four hitter, but she just excelled as a hitter this year.”
The daughter of Justin and Melanie Jensen has always been a pitcher. The 17-year-old who resides in Providence has four main pitches — fastball, change up, curve and a rise. Her rise ball is her favorite at the moment.
“I was super tall and long for my age, so everyone thought I would be a good pitcher,” said Jensen, who started playing softball at the age of seven. “... My rise is breaking super good right now, has a good spin on it that confuses the batters a little bit.”
What is a bigger thrill, a home run or a strikeout at a crucial time?
“Probably a strikeout,” Jensen said.
There were signs this could be a memorable season for the Riverhawks. Back in March they beat Spanish Fork, one of the best programs in the state. The Dons won the 5A state title this year and only suffered four losses on the season.
“When we beat Spanish Fork early in the season, it made us think that we may be better than we really think we are,” Jensen said. “It really helped.”
A loss to 5A Wasatch in early April helped the Riverhawks reset and focus on playing more as a team.
“That game we talked a lot about leadership because there wasn’t a lot of leadership going on in that game,” Jensen said. “For me and the other seniors, it opened up our eyes that we needed to step up and be the leaders we were supposed to be.”
Two setbacks to defending state champion Bear River during region play didn’t seem to bother Ridgeline at all in St. George.
“I think during the regular season we worried to much about Bear River,” Jensen said. “I think we over thought the games a little bit. At state, we did a scouting report on them as if we had never played them before and played the game like we didn’t know who they were.”
And it worked. When the Riverhawks and Bears squared off in the best-of-three series for the state title, Ridgeline ended a losing streak of six straight with a 3-2 victory, scoring two runs in the seventh. Then the Riverhawks made it a sweep with an 8-2 victory in the second game.
“It was my first time ever beating Bear River in four years of playing here,” Jensen said. “We said it before that we were going to see them in the state championship game after we lost to them in region. We said that once we beat them one time, we will all know that we can actually beat them. ... I wanted to do it for my team. I was going to do anything to help us win.
“... It was a really special year. We knew from the very beginning of the season that we would have a really good chance at winning state. Our team just felt like we connected a lot more than the past years. We all wanted the same thing.”
What was the difference this year?
“The drive that we all had to play our best every game,” Jensen said. “None of us like to lose. We didn’t want to lose any games. Our goal from the beginning of the year was to win state.”
Jensen has signed to play softball at the College of Southern Idaho. She hopes to be able to hit right away, but acknowledges there is work to be done to earn time pitching and hitting.
How would the MVP like to be remembered at Ridgeline?
“A hard worker,” Jensen said. “Someone who when things go wrong, I put even more effort into it and play with more heart for my team and myself.”
She certainly did that this past season.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Anne Wallace, Fr., Ridgeline
This Riverhawk certainly didn’t play like a freshman, especially at the state tournament. Wallace led a veteran team in hitting in helping the Riverhawks win their first-ever state title in softball. She hit a team-best .536 in five games at state.
“Against Crimson Cliffs, she was up to bat and their catcher kind of gave her an elbow,” Anderson said. “Anne hit two home runs after that. That to me is who she is; she is sparked by competition. For a freshman to lead this group at state in the most critical moments says a lot for who she is.”
For the season, Wallace hit .411 and had an on-base percentage of .476 and a slugging percentage of .781. The freshman hit seven home runs and six doubles. She had 36 RBIs, scored 18 times, drew eight bases on balls and stole four bases on four attempts.
“That kid is calm and loves to compete,” Anderson said. “She is a gamer. She is an all-around player that has gifts that are special and unique that I haven’t seen in the program, and we have had some great kids. Anne has special abilities.”
She split time at catcher and first base. Her strong arm made teams think twice about trying to steal when she was behind the plate.
“Down at state we stole 41 bases, and we only had one attempt on us the entire time, between Anne and Karli (Gowen),” Anderson said. “People don’t want to steal on Anne. She throws a lot of kids out and also plays really well at first base too.”
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Ellie Pond, So., Ridgeline
This Riverhawk was a threat at the plate every time she stepped in the box. By the end of the season, teams were even pitching around her.
“Ellie would come in and clean up for us and did really well,” Anderson said. “Ellie has a special swing, she has fast hands. That kid competes as hard as any kid I’ve ever coached.”
The sophomore, who was an All-Valley first teamer last year, hit the most home runs Anderson has had a player hit in more than a decade of coaching. Pond went deep 14 times this year to lead all 4A players in Utah and ranked fifth in the state among all classifications.
She finished the year hitting .458 with an on-base percentage of .528 and a slugging percentage of 1.031. Pond had nine doubles and two triples. The shortstop scored 38 runs and 42 RBIs, both second-best marks on the team. Her 12 bases on balls led the team. Pond also stole nine bases.
“The thing about this year, the bigger the pressure moment, the more she loved it,” Anderson said. “When you have somebody that loves the pressure moments, and they want the bat in their hand during critical moments or the ball hit to them, that is huge. Ellie wanted that ball coming to her either to hit it or field it.”
Pond hit in the three or four spot most of the season and seemed to thrive off big moments.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Teagan Hall, Sr., Mountain Crest
This Mustang split time at catcher and in the infield at shortstop, playing 156 innings of the 158 Mountain Crest saw action during the 2022 season. She started all 28 games.
“As a four-year starter, Teagan developed into a great team leader,” MC head coach Courtnee Maughan said. “She was part of our core all four years.”
In the 76.2 innings that she played at catcher, Hall only had six passed balls. The senior also threw out nearly 31 percent of would-be base stealers. She had 59 putouts and 51 assists.
“Teagan is a playmaker,” Maughan said. “She makes the extra plays and makes them look routine. Her arm is one of the best in the state and her ball sense is second to none.”
While her prowess on defense is certainly stellar, Hall got it done at the plate as well. She hit .451, had an on-base percentage of .485 and slugging percentage of .769. Her five home runs led the team, as did her 14 doubles and her 34 RBIs. Hall scored 21 runs, drew four walks and was perfect on stealing five bases on five attempts.
“Teagan is a fierce competitor,” Maughan said. “She competes with grace and respect for the game, for her opponent, for her coaches and team. She gives it all she’s got all the time. The first to put in extra reps and the first to own a mistake and most importantly, the first to pull a teammate who is struggling aside and give them a pep talk.”