By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Kevin McInnis
Editor’s Note – The TOSH Top 25 is our countdown of the top 25 stories from the 2016-2017 school sports year, beginning with No. 25 and counting down, one story a day, to No. 1. The 2016-2017 high school sports year was filled with big performances, both team and individual. The act of narrowing down our initial list of top stories for our TOSH Top 25 stories of the year to just 25 was a difficult task. We asked people all over the state for input into our final list and beginning July 5, we are counting them down in reverse, from story No. 25 to story No. 1. Hopefully your favorite story of the past school year made our list.
Today, we announce No. 17 on our list with two softball programs (West and Grantsville) who saw long waits come to an end with 2017 state championships.
#17 – Grantsville and West seize state softball titles
Sometimes when you work and wait for great things to happen, the prize can be all the sweeter. Such was the case when the 2017 softball season came to an end with a pair of unfamiliar teams joining the state championship party. Grantsville had never won a title in Class 3A before this year and West was looking for its first-ever championship in the sport, and for both 2017 was the magical year.
Grantsville wins 3A softball
The Cowboys had won softball titles in Class 2A previously, but the last one came in 1998 and with teams like Bear River, Stansbury, Tooele, Juab and first-year power Ridgeline in the 3A bracket, this was not an easy run at all. After two impressive early-round wins, Grantsville ran into Bear River on Friday of championship weekend. That 1-0 win gave the Cowboys the luxury of staying in the winners’ bracket.
Grantsville followed that up with a 4-1 victory against Ridgeline, which had already sent Stansbury, Tooele and Juab to the elimination bracket and set up the Cowboys to face just one of those teams coming back around in the championship matchup. After the loss sent Bear River to the brink of elimination, the Bears knocked off Juab and Tooele in one-run battles on Friday to survive for a matchup with Ridgeline Saturday morning that would decide the title game opponent for the Cowboys.
The pitching of Alese Casper was critical in keeping Grantsville in control of its own destiny all week long and she was the key to this championship run. It certainly helps that head coach Heidi Taylor runs out a great defensive group to back Casper’s work in the circle. The team had just three seniors, but Casper and catcher Brayle Crossman put two of them in critical positions.
The rematch with the defending 3A champions from Bear River, a team that had won two regular-season matchups between the squads, was not the pitchers’ duel the earlier tourney game had been. This time, the Cowboys used their offense to build a lead and then closed out a tense seventh inning to earn a 7-4 win and that elusive 3A state championship.
Hannah Butler, Addison Smith and Crossman all hit home runs for Grantsville in that title game, but it was not over until Casper got Bears’ pitcher and star hitter Kapri Toone on a fly ball to right field in that decisive seventh. With two runners on base in a three-run contest, making Toone the tying run at the plate, it was a huge out that delivered a championship banner to Grantsville.
West gets first-ever softball state title
A year ago, West High reached the Class 5A state championship round from the winners’ bracket but the Panthers lost back-to-back games to Riverton and saw their title hopes dashed. In 2017, however, four years of preparation came together and West reached to top of the mountain.
Once again, the Panthers got to the finale without a loss and in the driver’s seat for the championship. This time, the opponent was Bingham, and the Miners slowed a West offense that was scoring 13 runs per game in the state tournament, and won the initial matchup, forcing a winner-take-all rematch.
This time, the Panthers were not going to be denied and despite a slow start with the sticks (they trailed 3-1 at the end of three innings), they found their batting strokes just in time and got it done, winning the first state title in West softball history with a 12-6 victory. The Panthers scored eight times in the fourth, then got a three-run home run from sophomore Huntyr Ava to put the contest out of reach.
This moment began to take shape when a pair of players, Breah Ava and Rayna Aiono, the two seniors on this year’s team, arrived on campus four seasons ago. It became a reality as West added more weapons to their arsenal with each succeeding year.
The younger Ava, Huntyr, arrived last year and provided another big bat to a team that loves the long ball. The sophomore had three hits and five RBIs in the championship game win. Another pair of sisters, junior Brianna and sophomore Keisha White provide a heavy dose of speed in the Panther outfield and sophomore pitcher Mikala Ulibarri carried a big load in the circle.
Add in strong performances from junior shortstop Jazmyn Rollin and sophomore Kamora Masina and you have the makings of a power team that is probably not done competing for championships.
The wait paid off for both Grantsville and West in 2017 and that combination is No. 17 on our TOSH Top 25 stories of the 2016-2017 school sports year.