ST. GEORGE — An offensive burst in the seventh inning by Ridgeline lifted the pressure that had been exerted the previous inning by Bear River and pitcher Markessa Jensen could breathe easy with an 8-2 cushion to get the final three outs of the game and bring home the 4A state hardware for the Riverhawks.
The victory evened the win total against Bear River in head-to-head matchup, but more importantly completed the sweep for Ridgeline’s first softball state championship.
Ridgeline put up three runs in the initial frame. That would turn out to be enough, but the Bears scored two runs in the sixth to make things interesting.
After a five-inning drought, however, the Riverhawks caught fire again and put up five more runs in the seventh.
Offensively, Ridgeline was by far the hottest team in the tournament. The Riverhawks scored 30 runs in the three tournament games leading up to the championship series, including 15 runs against the No. 2 seed, Crimson Cliffs.
But coach Mike Anderson’s club showed it could also win the small-ball game, coming from behind on Friday to beat the Bears 3-2.
The teams nearly duplicated that score Saturday, but for the late-inning barrage.
“We were actually playing small ball in the seventh,” Anderson said, “but with our speed on the bases and some big hits we ended up having a big inning.”
Shelby Blankenship led the inning with a single to center field. Eliza Arledge entered the game and for the second consecutive contest saw exactly one pitch.
This time Arledge laid down the sacrifice bunt to move Blankenship to second. Allie Williams then pinch ran for Blankenship and stole third.
Williams would score on Adi Hansen’s infield single.
Hansen would later score when Brinnley Anderson reached on a throwing error. Ellie Pond then singled to right-center field and reached second on the throw home that sent Anderson back to third base.
Jensen then drew a walk to load the bases. Consecutive singles from Anne Wallace and Kenzee Hale scored two more runs.
The final run of the game came on a sac fly to right field by Abbie Banning, and Jensen took an 8-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh.
“The lead was nice but it did not feel any different as far as pressure like the day before,” Jensen said.
“Bear River is a good hitting team up and down their lineup. I knew I still had to get three outs.”
Jensen got a strikeout sandwiched by two pop ups to Hale at shortstop to grab the title.
In the first inning, Anderson and Pond both had one-out singles. Jensen then doubled to center field and reached third base on the throw home, picking up two RBIs.
Williams came in as a courtesy runner for Jensen and scored on a sacrifice bunt by Wallace. Bears pitcher Kate Dahle got the next batter to fly out to end the top half of the first down 3-0.
That would remain the tally as neither team could get runs across for the next five innings.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Bears saw their chances diminishing with only six more outs to make something happen.
They began the inning with the top of their lineup and Kynlei Nelson’s speed beat out the throw from third base to record the infield single.
After a foul out, McCall Maxfield hit a line-drive shot to left that needed just two feet more to clear the fence.
The hit resulted in a run-scoring double and the Bears were finally on the board. Kendyl Archibald entered the game to pinch run for Maxfield and would score on Dahle’s sacrifice fly to right field to pull the game within 3-2.
Dahle struck out six batters but gave up 11 hits.
“Earlier this year she struck out 12 of our batters in a loss,” Anderson said. “Facing them in the finals, we told our girls to stay in the box and establish their zones and to not chase those outside pitches just off the plate.”
Jensen only struck out four batters but also limited the Bears to just five hits.
“Bear River is a good hitting team,” Anderson said. “We knew we were going to have to pitch to them but we have a very good defense.
“We knew we would get the outs or at least limit them on the bases.”
Ridgeline completes the season with a 26-5 record. Bear River finished 28-5.