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High school softball: Top seeds Ridgeline, Bear River stay unbeaten with two 4A state tourney wins

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4A softball winners state championship tournament at the Cottonwood Complex in Millcreek on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The top two seeds at the 4A state softball tournament took care of business twice on Wednesday to move within one win of advancing to the weekend state championship series.

Top seed Ridgeline beat Mountain Crest 9-0 and Snow Canyon 2-0, while No. 2 seed Bear River beat Cedar City 7-2 and Desert Hills 4-2 to stay unbeaten in 4A bracket play at Cottonwood Complex.

Ridgeline coach Michael Anderson said staying on the winners side of the bracket is huge, “as you have a lot more control of your own destiny.”

Bear River and Ridgeline will each play at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday against the winners of the 10:30 a.m. one-loss bracket games.

A win in either the 12:30 p.m. or the 2:30 p.m. if necessary game secures Ridgeline and Bear River a place in the best-of-3 championship series at BYU on Friday and Saturday.

Ridgeline had a much easier time staying on the winners side on Thursday, especially in the first game against rival Mountain Crest.

Led by sophomore slugger Anne Wallace, who homered twice and drove in five runs, Ridgeline breezed to the 9-0 win in a game that Ava Howell and Addison Hess also homered.

Wallace’s two home runs extended her state record single-season total to 27, and she’s inching closer to the RBI state record. She has 65 RBIs on the season and the state record is 72.

Shelby Blankenship earned the win in the first game by striking out eight, while Hess struck out four in earning the win in the second game.

The second game presented a much bigger challenge for Ridgeline going up against Snow Canyon strikeout machine Avery Thorkelson, who struck out 17 in her team’s earlier win over Crimson Cliffs on Wednesday.

“She is a great pitcher. She kept us off balance a little bit, threw the ball outside and I think she was able to catch the corners a bit on some stuff,” said Anderson.

Ridgeline only had five strikeouts as it put the ball in play against Thorkelson and made the defense work.

Putting the ball in play helped Abbie Banning drive in an insurance run on a sac fly in the bottom of the sixth.

“The thing that I’m proud of our kids is against that pitcher, 17 strikeouts the first game, us to keep it to five and put the ball in play, make them make some plays,” said Anderson.

On Thursday, Ridgeline will play the winner of the elimination game between Snow Canyon and Mountain Crest.

On the other side of the bracket, Bear River had to rally from slow starts in both games to stay undefeated.

The Bears trailed Cedar 2-1 after four innings in the first game, but scored three runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to pull away for the win.

Aubree Fry, Bella Douglas and Kate Dahle all doubled in a pair of runs to lead the Bears, while Kate Dahle pitched the final three innings of shutout ball, striking out four to earn the win.

In the second game, Desert Hills struck first in the top of the first with two runs, but Bear River pulled ahead with a three-run third inning to take a 4-2 lead.

After that, Bear River struggled to get the offense going, which coach Calvin Bingham said surprised him after some great practices leading up to the state tournament.

“I expected them to hit a little better but maybe it’s the tension and the anxiety associated with state,” said Bingham.

Starting pitcher Dahle had to exit the game in the fourth inning with a cramp in her leg, but Emma Harrow came on in relief and only allowed one hit in the final 2 13 innings to keep the lead at 4-2.

Left fielder Ashley Warren, center fielder Aubree Fry and shortstop Kaya Towne all made great defensive plays on well-hit balls in the top of the seventh to secure the win.