The Spanish Fork softball team appeared to be living a charmed existence for much of the final day of the 4A state tournament Saturday at the Spanish Fork Softball Complex.
Unfortunately for the Dons, in this instance the third time wasn’t the charm.
After a dramatic eight-inning 8-6 victory over Bear River in the last elimination game and a thrilling 5-2 win to hand Tooele its first loss of the playoffs, Spanish Fork ran out of magic in the final contest.
With the championship on the line, the Buffaloes scored early and held on to get the 3-1 win, forcing the Dons to settle for second place.
“They battled,” Spanish Fork head coach Don Andrews said. “We are getting better every game against them but we are out of time now.”
Just how unfathomable was the final day for the Dons?
Late in the opening game against the Bears, it appeared Spanish Fork’s season was over.
Since the Dons were the visiting team, Bear River got one last at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, trailing 6-4.
But a walk and a two-run home run tied the game and gave all the momentum to the Bears. Bear River loaded the bases with just one out and appeared likely to get the walkoff win.
But the following play changed everything.
A Bear batter hit a looping pop-up just in front of first base, then took off toward the bag. Even though she was out due to the infield fly rule, she ended up getting in the way of the Spanish Fork first baseman trying to make the catch and the ball fell to the ground.
The Bear River runner at third quickly sprinted for home while the Don first baseman fired the ball into the catcher. The ball got away from the catcher and the runner appeared to be safe, sparking a wild celebration by the Bear River team.
The umpires, however, waved off the run and called a double play: one out coming on the infield fly and one out coming for the interference by the base runner.
“I didn’t think of it being an infield fly because I was watching the runner going home,” Andrews said. “When they told me, I thought, that’s right. I knew the rule. When they told me, I knew it but before then, I was down in the dumps.”
Spanish Fork made the most of the reprieve, scoring two runs in the top of the eighth on RBI hits by shortstop Brooklyn Pintar and second baseman Samantha Cowden. then holding the Bears scoreless to secure the 8-6 win.
“I enjoyed beating them not because I dislike them but because I like them,” Andrews said. “They are good coaches. Every team they have they coach well, so it tickled me to beat them.”
That gave the Dons a spot in the title game against Tooele but the Buffaloes had been dominant in the playoffs, not allowing a single run.
And Spanish Fork would have to get two wins against Tooele star pitcher Attlyn Johnston in order to take the title.
The Buffaloes jumped out early in the first game with a pair of solo home runs but the Dons cut the Tooele lead in half when they took advantage of a Buffalo error in the top of the fifth inning.
Spanish Fork really got going in the top of the sixth inning, thanks in part to some Buffalo miscues.
The first Don runner got on base after the third strike was dropped, which put some pressure on Tooele. The next two Spanish Fork batters made solid contact and got some help with a pair of Buffalo errors.
“I know there were errors but the balls were hit hard,” Andrews said. “Anytime you hit the ball hard, good things happen.”
The Dons surged in front with two runs off of those mistakes, then extended the lead when right fielder Trinity Benson drove in two runners with a double.
That proved to be all Spanish Fork pitcher Briley Young would need as the Dons got the 5-2 win.
“We showed up and were really excited,” Young said. “We had the heart and wanted it really bad. We did all we could.”
Tooele again jumped in front on in the deciding game, getting a pair of runs in the top of the second inning and another in the top of the third.
Spanish Fork had a great opportunity to rally after it started the bottom of the fourth with a pair of singles. A hard-hit line drive went right back to Johnston in the circle, who snagged it and fired to first for the crushing double play.
The Dons were able to get on the board when center fielder Marae Condie laid down a bunt on a squeeze play and Young scored in the bottom of the fifth, but that turned out to be the only run Spanish Fork could get.
“We couldn’t get something going,” Andrews said. “The double play killed us. I was pretty happy with the hits we got. We made an adjustment and it helped big time. If some different things go on, maybe we win. We just kind of ran out of gas.”
It was a heroic effort for the Dons, who played seven games in three days — 6.5 with Young in the circle.
Although there were plenty of tears for Spanish Fork as the Dons came up one game short of their goal, Young said she was proud of how the girls performed.
“I’m super-proud of every single one of us,” Young said. “We fought as hard as we could and we definitely left everything out on the field. I’m feel really blessed to be on such a good team.”