On the 23 wins the Spanish Fork softball team had tallied heading into Tuesday’s big Region 8 showdown against rival Springville, 18 of them had came by seven runs or more.
That means this talented Spanish Fork squad was unaccustomed to be in a 3-3 game in the bottom of the fifth inning. In addition, the Dons were missing a pair of senior starters who were out because of health reasons.
Spanish Fork needed someone else to step up — and junior first baseman Kiley Mitchell answered the call.
Mitchell came up big both at the plate and in the field as she gave the Dons the spark they needed to surge in front and eventually secure the 7-3 victory over the Red Devils.
“We had new people in new positions today and I think we came in a little unsure,” Spanish Fork head coach Natalie Jarvis said. “Then Kiley got that big hit and it changed the momentum. It was pivotal.”
Mitchell stepped up to the plate with a runner on first but with two outs.
“I knew I had to see the pitch,” Mitchell said. “I had struck out earlier but I know if I saw it, I could hit it. I just tried to get a base hit, so I just swung hard.”
She got solid contact and drove the ball over the fence, giving the Dons their first lead of the game.
“That was the best feeling ever,” Mitchell said. “It’s amazing to come around second and see your entire team waiting for you at home plate. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
Mitchell came up with one more critical play when Spanish Fork was in the field in the top of the sixth inning.
Springville had put a runner on second with just one out and appeared to have a shot at getting some momentum back on its side.
A ground ball resulted in a throw to first for the second out as the Red Devil runner advanced around third. Mitchell made the catch for the put-out, then immediately rifled the ball back across the diamond.
“I saw the runner going hard and I knew she was going to turn and look,” Mitchell said. “We’ve practiced that so much that I knew my third baseman was going to be there. I just trusted her and knew I could throw it.”
The quick move ended up getting the third out of the inning as the runner couldn’t get back in time and Spanish Fork maintained the two-run lead.
“She didn’t even hesitate,” Jarvis said. “She just came up and threw. She’s having a great season.”
The Dons tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth off a double by senior centerfielder Trinity Benson and that would be plenty, since Spanish Fork sophomore pitcher Avery Sapp had found a groove from the circle.
The one Red Devil batter who was able to really figure out Sapp’s pitching was Springville senior pitcher/first baseman Mckenna Thomas, who went 3-for-3 on the day with a walk.
Her first two at-bats were hard-hit blasts that both cleared the fence as Thomas hit a solo home run in the first inning and a two-run shot in the third.
That gave the visitors a 3-0 lead early, but Spanish Fork came back with three runs in the bottom of the third — two of which were driven in on a single by Mitchell — to tie things up.
Springville head coach Jill Thackeray said she was pleased with the way her squad played overall but that it just wasn’t able to come through with a few more key plays.
“We hit the ball much better,” Thackeray said. “We had nine hits but we left seven runners in scoring position. Our defense and our pitching was pretty good, but we hurt ourselves with a couple of mistakes. We felt like we were in a position where we could’ve won but we didn’t execute.”
Both teams were thrilled to have a high-intensity contest that came down to the final innings as they prepare for the upcoming 5A state playoffs.
“Springville is a fun team to play against,” Jarvis said. “They love to hit and they are great on defense. This was a big game and I’m proud of how we played.”
Mitchell said she felt like Spanish Fork needed a game like that and added that she loved the challenge.
Thackeray hopes her squad realizes that it is very close to being at the same level as the Dons.
“We control our own destiny,” she said. “We have to make plays and we have to hit the ball. We saw glimpses of that today. If we do those things, we’ll be in a good position.”
Spanish Fork (24-1, 13-0) will wrap up the regular season when it plays at Maple Mountain on Thursday, while Springville (17-6, 10-3) next hosts Payson on the same afternoon.
Both games are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m.