After defeating No. 2 Bear River 5-0 in Game 1 of a three-game championship series Friday, No. 1 Tooele needs just one more win to take its second straight 4A softball state championship.
The game marked the first time this season that Bear River was shut out. It was reminiscent of Tooele’s semifinal victory over Bear River in 2019, the last year the tournament was held, when the Buffaloes blanked the defending state champion Bears en route to the state title.
Bear River would like to forget that game, as well as this one for that matter. The team’s memory will have to be short in order to bring the state trophy home, as the Bears need to secure two straight victories over a Tooele team that hasn’t lost in over a month.
The last loss came at the hands of this same Bear River squad.
Tooele coach Marissa Lowry was impressed with her team’s shutout, saying, “I talked about staying consistent not only in the box but out in the field as well. (Pitcher) Attlyn (Johnston) did what she always does. (Our infielders) always talk about not getting a lot of balls so it was fun to see them field those balls and step up big for our team.”
The Buffaloes stepped up in a big way, holding the previously hot-hitting Bears to just four hits and nine runners left on base.
Bear River looked poised to attack in the fifth inning, only down two with runners on second and third and one out. Tooele had other plans in mind, though, preserving its shutout by throwing Lainee Norman out at home and then retiring Kortnie Burton without any damage done.
Until the sixth inning, Tooele’s offense was also shaky. That was when senior Emma Higley came to the plate and all but ended the contest. The sure-handed catcher picked up three of her four RBIs in the game on a two-out, three-run shot that sailed over left field and out of the park, giving the Buffaloes a 5-0 lead.
“I kind of felt it right off my bat. It just felt really good. I made solid contact with it,” Higley said. “Our coach had told us to expect the outside. We went hitting this morning and I just really worked outside, so I was looking for that outside pitch to take for a ride.”
Higley sent the ball on quite the trip, and its journey put Bear River up against a wall and dashed its hopes of taking Game 1.
Lowry recognizes that the Buffaloes are far from seeing the last of the Bears.
“I told them we still have to come back tomorrow,” she said. “Bear River is going to come swinging for us. We have to stay consistent and we have to play our game. Nothing is a given. Bear River is a great team. They’re coached by great coaches, and so that’s what we’re expecting going into tomorrow.”
The battle of the Buffaloes and the Bears Part II will begin Saturday at 11 a.m. at Spanish Fork Softball Complex. A second game will be played at 1:30 p.m. if necessary.