TAYLORSVILLE — It was everything a state championship game should be and more.
The 4A state softball tournament culminated in a game of the ages, one people will be talking about for years to come.
It all came down to Tooele and Spanish Fork after the Dons had advanced by defeating Lehi in the final game of the one-loss bracket. And then it was a battle that showed just how much heart both teams had as comeback after comeback held the crowd breathless. In the end, it was the Buffaloes that finally came through on a spectacular catch by sophomore Brooke Slade, a catch that sealed the outcome of the 9-8 Tooele victory.
"I died a thousand deaths. It was an amazing game. All of a sudden things got a little crazy in the last couple of innings. They just kept coming and our girls never quit," said Tooele coach Steve Snow, whose team won its ninth title overall and its sixth in the last eight years.
It all started very simply. Tooele racked up three runs in the top of the first, capped by a home run to center field by Whitney Holt. The Buffaloes tacked on another run in the third to give themselves a 4-0 lead. Everything looked secure with Mattie Snow in the circle taking control.
But everything started getting a little shaky when the Dons scored a run in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to a pair of Tooele errors and a single by Lyndsey Healey.
Things got even crazier as the Dons picked up four more runs in the sixth and snagged a 5-4 lead over the Buffaloes with three singles and two more Tooele errors, a rally which seemingly started to give Spanish Fork added confidence that it could possibly force an extra 4A title game.
"There's no quit in these girls," said Spanish Fork coach Don Andrews of his young squad.
Then it was the Buffaloes' turn to steal the lead back and do it in a big way. Three singles, an error and a double by Slade brought in five more Tooele runs, giving the Buffaloes the 9-5 lead.
"I thought that we'd taken a comfortable cushion going into the bottom of the seventh," Snow said. "But with Spanish Fork, nothing's ever safe."
The bottom of the seventh was all it took for the Dons to throw terror into the hearts of everyone on the Tooele side of the field and in the stands as they loaded the bases without an out on a walk and two singles. But they didn't score a run before the Buffaloes secured two outs. Then the pressure started mounting.
The Dons kept putting the ball into play, and the Buffaloes kept bobbling it. Two errors sent home two Spanish Fork runs, and with the bases loaded, Healey was hit by a pitch, bringing home the third run of the inning and getting the Dons to within 9-8 with the bases still loaded.
"I knew we could do it. I just took deep breaths and told myself that I needed to keep being a leader," Mattie Snow said of game's crazy turns in the final two innings.
She got opposing pitcher Kailey Christensen to send a fly ball into right field. If the ball had dropped, two runs would most likely have scored, and the Dons would have been victorious. But if Slade made the catch, her team would take the title.
It all rested on the sophomore's shoulders.
"I wasn't really thinking. I just thought, 'Please catch it. Please catch it.' If I miss this, they're going to win the game. It took me a minute, and then I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, I caught it!" said a breathless Slade.
"I didn't know if she was going to make it or not, and when she came up showing ball I jumped up this (miming about three feet) high," said Steve Snow.
The catch gave the Buffaloes the win, but it couldn't take anything away from an incredible Spanish Fork season, and Andrews wasn't about to let his team forget that.
"I'm gonna go congratulate them on a very good tournament," Andrews said of his team. "They had a very good season. They've got a lot of heart. I'm not disappointed at all. We had nobody come back (from last year's team), so our expectations were only to work our guts out and do the best we can."