MILLVILLE — The Ridgeline softball team had been focused on a specific topic all week in preparation for its first-round playoff series showdown against Cedar on Friday afternoon.
“We’ve been talking about when you’re down, what makes you get back up,” RHS head coach Mike Anderson said. “You can tell people it but until they experience it they don’t know what it is.”
For the first 6-and-2/3 innings, it appeared as if Ridgeline wouldn’t get to put their coach’s challenge to the test. The Riverhawks led 6-2 and were an out away from securing an easy victory in the first game in a best-of-three series against the visiting Reds.
But then something happened. Cedar pieced together a five-run rally in the top of the seventh to take their first lead of the game, 7-6. Moments later, in the bottom of the seventh, Ridgeline was the team with the deficit, and the hosts were down to their final out.
Could they get back up?
With two outs and the bases empty, Abbie “Boots” Banning stepped up to the plate, looking for an answer. And she got it, driving a ball over the center field wall to tie the game at 7-7. In the bottom of the eighth, a squeeze bunt from Psadi Takis sent Kori Palmer home, and the Riverhawks had completed the comeback, winning the game 8-7.
“We’ve been practicing as a team in exactly those situations and then I went up and I was like this is perfect,” said Banning regarding her home run. “I was just doing it for my team. Honestly, I love them so much.”
Throughout the game, it was a team effort that got it done for the Hawks. They had a combined 11 hits, including three from starting pitcher Markessa Jensen, who helped her own cause by scoring a run and knocking in another. The lone senior on the roster, Kaylee Smith, contributed with a two-run double in the bottom of the sixth.
But beyond the hitting, much of the offensive success resulted from aggressive base running. Stretching singles into doubles, stealing bases and bunting to move runners into scoring position kept the Reds on their heels throughout the game. Ridgeline laid down five bunts throughout the game, a strategy that brought in two runs, including the winner.
“I think it does go down to small ball, like how aggressive you are and how bad you want it — your heart for the game,” Banning said. “That’s what I think we had that whole game.”
Ridgeline started the game in complete control. Jensen — who gave up just five hits in the first six innings — was dominant early, striking out the side in the top of the second and sending the Reds three up three down in the third.
A sacrifice bunt from Palmer that sent Jensen home got things going for the Hawks in the bottom of the second. Then, in the bottom of the third, Katelyn Leishman caught Cedar off guard by attempting to stretch a walk into a double. Attempting to throw Leishman out at second, Kenzee Hale dashed from second to home to make it 2-0. Moments later, A sacrifice fly from Brinnley Anderson then sent home Leishman, and a Jensen base hit sent in Banning to make it 4-0.
“We spend a lot of time on that and tell the kids that it’s as important as anything else,” Anderson said of his team’s base running. “If you can keep pressure on them, it’s like a python.”
Cedar would get on the board in the top of the fourth with a home run from Kodi Nelson — foreshadowing for what was to come.
In the sixth, it was Nelson once again, hitting an RBI double to make the score 4-2. But Ridgeline responded with a massive double of its own, with Smith extending the lead to 6-2.
In the top of the seventh, with just a runner on first, Cedar was down to their final out. But their bats managed to get going against Jensen, and back-to-back run-scoring base knocks from Braylee Peterson and Haylee Campbell made it 6-4. Then Nelson came back up to the plate and launched a three-run home run to dead center.
Despite giving up the lead, Jensen maintained her composure and managed to get the Hawks out of the inning down just one.
“As a pitcher, for Kessa that’s her first time ever pitching in a state game, so to take that, have a kid hit a home run and then have to go get some more outs, I’m as proud of her as I could ever be of any pitcher,” Anderson said.
The Hawks and Reds will square up for game two Saturday morning at 11 a.m.
OTHER VALLEY TEAMS
It was a rough day for valley teams that hit the road. Sky View fell at top-seeded Tooele, 6-2, Stansbury beat Sky View, 11-5, and Mountain Crest lost at Uintah, 13-5.
At Stansbury, the Bobcats (14-10-1) had a great start as Cambrie Davis smacked a three-run home run in the top of the first to center field. The Stallions answered with two in the bottom of the first.
Sky View added a run in the second on a RBI single by Skylee Haramoto to take a 4-2 lead. It lasted until the bottom of the third, when Stansbury plated three runs to take the lead for good.
The Bobcats had nine hits and three errors, while the Stallions finished with 16 base knocks and no errors.
Haramoto and Preslie Jensen each had two hits for Sky View. Tawnee Lundahl and Brynn Mayhew each recorded a double. Davis and Haramoto each pitched three innings.
At Vernal, the Mustangs (8-13) built a 4-0 lead through two-and-a-half innings. Uintah (17-7) plated four runs in the bottom of the third to tie the game and took the lead with a run in the fourth. The Utes then exploded for seven runs in the fifth to put the game away.
Teagan Hall had two solo home runs for Mountain Crest, while Aspen Leishman had a double. The Mustangs had eight hits for the game.
At Tooele, the Wolves (9-19) also took the early lead with a run in the top of the first. The Buffaloes (22-3) scored five in the bottom of the opening frame, which proved to be enough.
Green Canyon had just three hits for the game and committed four errors. Morgan Gittins had two hits, including a double, while Abbey Hansen had the other and scored twice. Rylee Ericson went the distance in the circle, striking out one and walking one.
Tooele finished with eight base knocks and had three errors.
HJ sports editor Shawn Harrison contributed to this report