The Utah Thunder, an 18 and under girls softball team from northern Utah, captured the Triple Crown World Series Championship with a thrilling, come-from-behind victory over the Oregon Scorpions.
The team, comprising players from Spanish Fork, Bingham, Roy, Bear River and Copper Hills, went 9-1 in pool play, then went to extra innings in the championship game, defeating the Scorpions on a walk-off single from Bingham's Whitney Littledike.
"I think some of the teams underestimated us coming from Utah," said second baseman Payton Palmer of Roy. "Our pitching was great, our hitting was timely, and everyone on the team played their hearts out."
The championship didn't come easy. The Scorpions took the Thunder to extra innings. In the top half of the eighth, with a runner on second, Spanish Fork pitcher Kailey Christensen forced a pop-up. She then struck out the Scorpions No. 5 hitter and drew a ground ball to get out of the jam.
"I had the best defense behind me and that took some of the pressure away from that moment," said Christensen.
When Roy's Jamie Aiken reached second, high school teammate Bryce Mitchell laid down what coach Kelly Aiken called the perfect bunt, advancing Jamie Aiken to third before Littledike drove in the winning run.
"Every one of these girls was a star on their high school team, but they bought into the team concept," said Aiken. "When asked to lay down a bunt they did it, and I think they proved that softball is a team sport."
Competing against teams that had multiple Division 1 players on every roster, Aiken said the Thunder's win is a statement of how good Utah softball is.
"The team we were able to assemble I would put up against anybody," he said. "I think Utah girls' softball has always been on the map, but it's not a hidden secret anymore."
With most of the Thunder's roster headed off to college, the Triple Crown win marks the last time this talented bunch will play competitively together.
"We've been playing together for such a long time, and we've had so much fun, it's hard to imagine that was our last game," said Palmer.
Utah Thunder's College Commits
Player School College
Kylee Wolf Spanish Fork SUU
Whitney Littledyke Bingham So. Idaho
Kailey Christensen Spanish Fork SLCC
Bryce Mitchell Roy Dawson CC
Morgan Summers Bear River UVU
Caylie Phelts Roy Trinidad CC
Amanda Cook Copper Hills Colorado NW CC
Jordan Thuerer Bear River SUU
Ashley Clayson Copper Hills SLCC
Jamie Aiken Roy Dawson CC
Payton Palmer Roy SLCC