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Taylorsville • They said it was a rebuilding year.
They said there was no way Salem Hills could replace 11 seniors who made a run to the state championship game last season. Competing for the first state title in school history would have to wait so maturation and experience could grow and prosper.
The pundits were wrong.
The Skyhawks claimed the first Class 4A championship in school history Thursday afternoon when an innocent pop up fell into the glove of shortstop Abbie Tuttle for the final out of a 3-2 cliffhanger over Box Elder.
With the catch came proof that a young team with just one senior starter could gel and be elite by leaning on talent and not much experience.
"This is vindication for us because there were so many people who said that we weren't going to be able to do it this year," catcher Kaylee Simons said. "We just had talent, and we came together at the right time. It didn't take long for us to realize that we had a good team on our hands."
Salem Hills looked like grizzled veterans whenever adversity hit. Simons tripled in the bottom of the fourth inning with the game tied at 1-1. She scored on a ground ball. In need of an insurance run against a potent Box Elder lineup, Tuttle hit a towering homerun over the center-field fence for a 3-1 lead, enough runs for the title.
And finally, when the Bees scored once in the sixth inning and put two on base in the top of the seventh, Salem Hills junior Kirtlyn Bohling buckled down on the mound and picked up the final two outs.
"This is the way softball should be played," Skyhawks coach Renae Kinghorn said. "Each pitch, each at-bat was important. We proved today that these were the two best teams in the state. This was a great softball game from the first inning to the last out, and I'm glad we won."
Salem Hills ultimately proved to be the best team with dominance and versatility. Blowout wins over teams like Roy and Provo highlighted a lineup capable of exploding offensively at any time. A 3-0 win over Murray and a previous win over Box Elder showed a team capable of beating anyone at any time.
And to think, everyone other than Simons returns next season. Tuttle, who was the best hitter during the tournament, is just a sophomore.
"We're going to be tough next season," Kinghorn said.
Storylines Salem Hills 3, Box Elder 2
R The Skyhawks take the lead in the fourth inning and never relinquish it.
• Abbie Tuttle hits the game-winning home run in the bottom of the fifth inning.