For much of the season and for the entire state tournament, the Spanish Fork softball team had simply been too much for the competition.
In Thursday afternoon’s 4A state championship game at the Valley Complex in Taylorsville, the Dons lined up to face a Uintah team that they had defeated 11-1 and 9-0 during Region 8 play.
Spanish Fork was the big favorite — but games aren’t played on paper.
For one entire game and about half of the second, the Utes went toe-to-toe with the mighty Dons and even outperformed them as they won Game 1, 10-8, and were tied at 5-5 after three innings in the second.
Spanish Fork, however, never crumbled under the pressure and surged in front in Game 2, scoring 12 unanswered runs to get the 17-5 victory in six innings to secure their third straight 4A state championship.
“Sometimes the matador gets the bull and other times the bull gets the matador,” Don head coach Don Andrews said. “That’s pretty much what happened. They had nothing to lose and came out swinging. They got on a roll.”
Spanish Fork senior pitcher Cambrie Hazel has been a superstar throughout the year but Thursday wasn’t her best outing.
“You have to know you can do it,” Hazel said. “You have to trust your pitches and trust your team. After the first game, my team said I was the best and that I could do it. I started the second game and they scored some runs. They kept pushing me.”
Andrews said that Hazel’s curve ball wasn’t moving like it usually does.
“All it did was go over the fence,” Andrews said. “If she doesn’t have that, then it’s tough. We just stuck to the rise ball and worked the others in occasionally. But she hung in there, got the rise ball working and started getting them with it.”
Hazel gave up four home runs in the first game just more than four innings of work. That was when she had to make a decision.
“It was hard as a senior being my last game but I knew if I wanted to win and do what was best for the team, Jordyn (Bate) would be our best option,” Hazel said. “She did great. It was hard because I wanted to be out there.”
Spanish Fork turned to Bate, a junior, in the circle and she kept the Dons close enough to get the game-winning run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh in the first game before a fly ball ended the contest.
That meant the Dons had to deal with the shock of losing and get ready to play another game, this one with elevated stakes.
“I gave them a talk and although I can’t remember what I said, my wife said it was a good talk,” Andrews said. “What can you say? They know what to do. At this point in time, if they don’t know what to do you probably ought to send them home. They pretty much did it themselves.”
Spanish Fork senior left fielder McKell Stone said the Don players just had to stay confident in themselves.
“The first game was an emotional roller coaster,” Stone said. “We just kept each other that we are a good team, that we can hit the ball and win games. We told ourselves that we were better than we did the first game.”
Andrews chose to be the visiting team for the second game, meaning his team got to hit first — and they took advantage.
Spanish Fork had five hits in six at-bats — two singles, two doubles and a two-run homer by junior Gabby Beckstrom — to seize the early momentum.
“I knew I was going to start doing better,” Beckstrom said. “It was super-intense but it started everyone going. It felt really good to get that home run.”
Uintah, to its credit, rallied with a grand slam by Kennedy Callahan in the second inning, then tied things up in the third.
But the Dons were determined to be there for Hazel and this time they just kept scoring.
“We just kept fighting,” Stone said. “When we start hitting and playing our game on both defense and offense, it is just so much fun.”
Beckstrom had the biggest day at the plate, going 4-for-4 in the final game with two home runs, a double and a single with seven RBI.
“Having my best game in the last game is pretty awesome,” Beckstrom said.
With the big lead, Spanish Fork was finally able to celebrate when it got the final out.
“Winning state is always the best feeling but being able to win three in a row means you have to be pretty lucky,” Beckstrom said. “We’ve worked really hard to get that.”
It was even sweeter for Stone, who game back from a couple of serious knee injuries to be a part of this Don team for her senior year.
“It felt so surreal,” Stone said. “I wish people know what it felt like because it is so hard to explain how you feel. It was so fun being here and being able to play my senior year. Coming out on top meant everything to me.”
Andrews has won six state titles during his tenure at Spanish Fork but it is something special to get three straight.
“When you’ve got Cambrie, it wasn’t all that hard (to win three in a row),” Andrews said. “Today everyone else came through.”
Uintah 3, Springville 2: The Red Devils outhit the Utes (7-6) but couldn’t get them at key times as Uintah held on to earn a spot in the 4A state title game.
“We left it all out on the field,” Springville head coach Jill Thackeray said. “It was the polar opposite of yesterday. We needed a few more timely hits but we had a chance right to the end. You certainly can’t fault our effort.”
The Red Devils made a habit of rallying late in games this season and nearly did it again in the semifinals.
Springville trailed 3-1 heading to the top of the seventh, but with two outs the Red Devils used a pair of walks and a single to score a run. Springville put the tying run in scoring position before Uintah was able get a pop out to end the game.
“We left with no regrets,” Thackeray said. “The losing part is never fun but there are no would’ve, should’ve, could’ves for us.”
The Red Devils would’ve loved to get a shot at a state title but falling just short didn’t diminish the strong season Springville had.
Thackeray couldn’t help but get emotional when she talked about her senior class and what they had accomplished in their Red Devil careers.
“I’m so proud of them and the legacy they left,” she said. “They were freshmen when I became the head coach. We had 16 freshmen show up and 12 of them are still here. They bought in from Day 1 and they have been phenomenal examples for the younger girls to look up to. They have set the standard of what needs to happen to be successful.”
Thackeray added that she feels like she has learned more from the girls than she has taught.
“I will be forever grateful to them for all of the things they taught me,” Thackeray said.
SPANISH FORK 17, UINTAH 5
Spanish Fork 500 165 — 17 15 1
Uintah 041 000 — 5 7 3
WP-Hazel, LP-Luck. 2B-Sharp (SF), Rudd (SF), Beckstrom (SF), Hazel (SF).HR-Beckstrom 2 (SF), K. Callahan (U).
UINTAH 10, SPANISH FORK 8
Uintah 221 032 0 — 10 11 0
Spanish Fork 400 200 2 — 8 11 0
WP-Stensgard (U), LP-Bate (SF). 2B-Sharp 2 (SF), Callahan (U), Carter (SF). HR-Stensgard 3 (U), Alexander (U), Rudd (SF), Rouska (U).
UINTAH 3, SPRINGVILLE 2
Springville 000 010 1 — 2 7 1
Springville 110 010 x — 3 6 0
WP-Stensgard (U), LP-Clark (S). 2B-Morgan (S), Stensgard (U). HR-Alexander (U), Rousica (U).