When Class 5A softball resumes on Tuesday at Salt Lake Community College, all eyes will be on the girls in the circle.
Weber, Copper Hills, Bingham and Taylorsville — all No. 1 seeds, all region champions — have the elite defense that title teams revolve around. And most of them are relying on some hard throwers who know how to win games.
Weber has McKenna Bull, who has 21 wins this year to top 5A. Shelbi Abeyta leads the Grizzlies with 13 wins. Paige Reimann has been a shutdown hurler for the Miners, and Taylorsville freshman Jaycie LeBaron has been a revelation with 19 wins.
It’s not enough to have someone who can throw well, because every team needs a defense that can pick up the miscues and avoid errors. But even elite teams take a lot of direction from the player who’s throwing the pitches.
“More than any other year, I feel like this is a team effort,” coach Rich Kaelin says. “But we’re very pleased with Jaycie, and the way she’s helped keep the demeanor and consistency while pitching for us.”
Each of the remaining winners’ bracket teams also has a few sluggers who know how to send balls over the fence — particularly Weber’s Taylor Stroud and Nicole Weiss. So Tuesday’s matches should be an interesting test for the top pitchers in the state.
In the one-loss bracket, Layton and Riverton could still be contending late in the week.
In the winners’ bracket of the Class 4A tournament, the bats will be swinging.
With Murray, Roy, Box Elder and Bountiful all left, the contenders should look to rack up runs on each other. Each of the remaining lineups can roll off hits in a hurry.
Particularly in Region 5, the Royals and Bees have been home run-happy. Roy has five hitters with multiple homers, led by Bryce Mitchell’s six. Box Elder’s Sadie Blacker and Venessa Quintero have led in the power hitting department with five apiece.
Murray and Bountiful have not quite had the same power numbers, but have instead relied on a steady string of singles to overwhelm opponents.
“The one thing our team has done really well is no one has tried to be a standout,” Bountiful coach Butch Latey says. “No one really pitches past us — we put the bat on the ball and put it in play.”
All four will be looking to advance, but history is on the side of the Spartans and the Royals, who met for the Class 5A title game last year. But after graduations, the two powerhouses are missing a few of the studs who got to them to that point last season, so new players will have to emerge.
In consolation, it’s hard to imagine that Region 8 powers Salem Hills and Maple Mountain are finished yet.