In her high school career, Spanish Fork ace Avery Sapp has rarely found herself in a pitcher’s duel with as dominant as the team’s offense is.
Spanish Fork has scored double-digit runs in 18 games this season, and with four batters in double-digit home runs this season, it is the murderer’s row of Utah high school softball.
In Game 1 of the 5A state championship series with No. 2 seed Bountiful though, top seed Spanish Fork needed Sapp to be at her absolute best because the bats weren’t popping.
She most certainly was, and considering what was at stake it was one of the best performances of her three-year high school career. Sapp struck out 12 and only allowed four hits as the Dons eked out the 1-0 win in Game 1 of the best-of-3 series at BYU.
Spanish Fork will try and wrap up its third-straight state title on Friday 1:30 p.m. with Game 2. If a third game is necessary it would follow on Friday as well.
Sapp was dialed in with her rise ball Thursday, and she sprinkled in her “iffy” change-up from time to time to keep Bountiful’s hitters off balance. During the five innings in which Bountiful put a runner in scoring position, Sapp pitched with the poise you’d expect from the senior leader to keep the shutout.
“I have tunnel vision, I just go really into a mode where nothing else is in my ears, I can’t hear anything,” said the UVU commit, who improved to 20-2 on the season with the win.
She needed to be outstanding as well because Bountiful’s ace Eva Stoddard was in a groove as well striking out eight and only allowing one run on a groundout to first base in the third inning.
“They’re a great team, two great pitchers, probably two of the two best pitchers in the state,” said Natalie Jarvis, who said she wasn’t surprised it was such a low-scoring game
She knew Sapp would rise to the occasion.
“Avery knows when to turn it on, she knows what’s on the line, every inning she got stronger and stronger. Avery possesses this drive, she is just an incredible pitcher. ‘Give me the ball, I want the ball.’ She knows she can command her troops,” said Jarvis. “She’s a fighter and she’s going to do everything she can to do what she needs to do. She’s just amazing. She’s an incredible pitcher, incredible athlete, incredible kid.”
Spanish Fork improved to 5-0 in state championship games in the new best-of-3 format, with Sapp winning them all. Last year Spanish Fork dominated Lehi in Game 1 15-2, but the second game was much more of a grind, winning just 4-0.
Sapp said regardless of her experience, the nerves are always present when she takes the field.
“There’s still nerves, you don’t know the outcome. You don’t know if you’re on top or not, you’ve just got to come up and be ready to play and just make sure that you’re in it and you’re giving 150% no matter what,” said Sapp.
Spanish Fork loaded the bases in the first inning but came up empty, and then put two on in the second without scoring again as Stoddard ended the inning with strikeouts both times.
In the third, Spanish Fork struck first on Paige Pierce’s fielder’s choice dink hit to first base, with the throw home not in time to get Peyton Hall.
Hall led off the inning with a walk, and then advanced to third on Alyce Archuleta’s first of two singles as she finished 2 for 3. Stoddard struck out the next two batters in the third to prevent a big inning, and only gave up two singles the rest of the way to keep the score 1-0.
At the plate though, Bountiful had numerous opportunities to tie it, but the big hit proved elusive. In the first and second innings, Sapp walked a combined three batters, but the Redhawks left the lead runner stranded at second base both times.
In the fourth inning, Frankie Galeana hit a one-out double, but Sapp struck out the next two batters. In the fifth, Bountiful leadoff hitter Melissa Turpin led off with a double, and after advancing to third with one out, was left stranded.
In the top of the seventh, Jaci Alvey — the only Bountiful batter that Sapp didn’t strike out — hit a two-run single to center, but Sapp got the next batter to ground out to Hall on a hard hit ball to third base.
Sapp said the quality of the defense behind is a big part of her confidence pitching in tight situations.
“I feel like I can throw any pitch and I know if it’s put in play the play will be made,” she said.
It gives her confidence heading into Game 2, in which Jarvis expects another great approach from her team.
“I’m excited, I’m excited for these girls. I want one game, and I believe that’s what they can do if they play their game,” said Jarvis.