It looked like an insurmountable task — needing to win five win-or-go-home games in less than 24 hours against a gauntlet of Class 3A’s top softball teams — but that’s the position Grantsville found itself in after a disappointing 7-6 loss to Manti in the quarterfinals Friday evening at the Spanish Fork Sports Park.
The Cowboys turned the seemingly impossible into reality, completing an improbable run through the Class 3A state tournament’s one-loss bracket with a 12-2, run-rule victory over Manti in the second game of the championship round to capture their third consecutive state title.
As it turned out, Grantsville’s strategy was quite simple.
“I don’t think that we looked at the fact that we had to win five in a row,” Cowboys coach Heidi Taylor said. “We just looked at the fact that we had to win the next game. A game at a time, an inning at a time, a pitch at a time. They just wanted to play with each other one more time. We wanted the most amount of games that we could play together, and we got it.”
That simple approach helped the Cowboys (26-6) get past Union 2-1 in eight innings on Friday evening, and they rolled past Grand 7-1 and North Sanpete 6-2 to get back to the championship round. Needing to beat Manti (24-7) twice in order to win the title, Grantsville crushed the Templars 11-1 in five innings in the first game to force a winner-take-all Game 2.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Grantsville senior Hannah Butler said. “I have so much gratitude toward everyone on the team. Everyone put it out on the line. Nobody wanted to leave with any regrets. There’s six seniors, we all all have a close bond, we all love each other and everyone just played for that.”
After having won four elimination games already, the Cowboys and their six seniors — Butler, Oaklee Collings, Maizie Clark, Addison Smith, Hailey DeLaney and Rylee Udom — had come too far not to finish the job in the finale. Laura Sandberg got Grantsville on the board in the bottom of the first with a two-run home run to left-center off Manti starter Tiffany Hermansen, but that was only the beginning of the onslaught. After a single up the middle by Jaelynn DeLaney, August Cowan hit an RBI single and Udom added an RBI ground-rule double to left to put the Cowboys up 4-0.
“I think it was our seniors who really led us through it all,” Sandberg said. “They kind of gave us some pep talks. They just were great examples for us. They told us what we needed to do, they told us how to accomplish and they led us all the way through.”
That was plenty of run support for Cowan, who got the call in the pitcher’s circle for the championship game.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it,” Cowan said of starting the championship game. “I got thrown in there, and I was like ‘whoa.’ It was fun. I had an amazing time. (The runs) took a lot of pressure off of me for sure. We’ve done great hitting this tournament, and it takes a lot of pressure off the pitcher and the infield when we start hitting.”
Grantsville kept racking up runs in the second inning. Maison White led off with a walk and Maddison Peterson singled, and a sacrifice fly by Maizie Clark and a sac bunt by Sandberg made it 6-0. Jaelynn DeLaney and Butler followed with back-to-back solo home runs — the second time they’d done that on Saturday, having accomplished the same feat hours earlier against Grand.
The home run was Butler’s seventh of the weekend. In seven games over two days, she was 13-for-24 (.542) at the plate with 16 RBIs and seven runs scored. In 24 regular-season games before the state tournament, she hit .343 with four home runs, 22 RBIs and 21 runs scored.
“I just had to go back to my fundamentals,” Butler said. “I haven’t had the best hitting season this year. I just had to do me — come up to the plate wanting to hit every pitch. Hit after hit, I was still surprised they kept coming.”
Butler added a two-run double in the third off Manti’s Ashley Rasmussen. That came after an RBI single by Sandberg that scored White and a sacrifice fly to center by Jaelynn DeLaney that plated Peterson. Kiana Pogroszewski, the Templars’ third pitcher of the game, managed to keep Grantsville off the scoreboard the rest of the way, but the damage had been done by that point.
Cowan allowed a two-run single to Manti’s Katie Larsen with one out in the top of the fourth inning before giving way to Bailey Frischknecht, who struck out five batters, hit one and allowed one base hit in 1 2/3 innings of relief. Frischknecht put the finishing touches on the Cowboys’ championship-clinching victory, getting Pogroszewski to strike out swinging and setting off a wild celebration in the pitcher’s circle.
“I don’t ever want to compare (championships), because I try to live in the moment for all of them and they’re all individually so awesome,” Taylor said. “This group knows that they can do great things, and they proved that today.”
Grantsville’s pitching was dominant in the seven games in Spanish Fork. Peterson, Frischknecht and Cowan combined for a 1.87 earned-run average in 45 innings, striking out 68 and walking 12. They gave up just 22 hits along the way.
“We’ve been a group since Day 1, and (Saturday) morning, we woke up and we talked about how this is a game and this is supposed to be fun,” said Peterson, who was 15-for-28 at the plate with three home runs, two doubles and nine RBIs. “We have the opportunity to play in this tournament, play in these games and be on this team. We took advantage of making this game fun and enjoying where we were at.
“It just feels so amazing to know that our team was built for this and we were able to pull through. We had the pitchers, we had the at-bats and we had the defense for this.”
Grantsville’s offense accounted for 17 home runs over the Cowboys’ seven-game state-tournament run. In 24 regular-season games, the Cowboys had 34 home runs.
Grantsville is the ninth Utah school to win at least three consecutive state championships. Spanish Fork was the last to do it, winning three Class 4A titles in a row from 2015-17. Stansbury was the last to win three straight 3A titles, doing so from 2013-15. Other schools to accomplish the feat include Bear River (five straight titles from 2008-12), Bingham (four straight from 1991-94 and three straight from 2008-10), Alta (1999-2001), Box Elder (1995-97), Juan Diego (2001-03), Manti (2005-07) and Tooele (2003-05).
Grantsville is the 11th school in Utah history to win at least four state softball titles, having also won it all in 1998. The others are Manti (10 titles), Bear River (nine), Tooele (nine), Bingham (eight), Box Elder (seven), Alta (six), Spanish Fork (six), Grand (five), Jordan (four) and Roy (four).
Championship Game 1
Grantsville 11, Manti 1,
Butler hit a three-run home run in the top of the first inning and added a two-run shot in the fourth, leading the Cowboys to the run-rule victory over the Templars that forced a decisive second game. Peterson was 3-for-4 with a solo home run and Sandberg was 3-for-4 with a three-run home run and two runs scored. Sophomore catcher Breana Hiatt was 2-for-3 with an RBI. Peterson gave up three hits, striking out three and walking one in a masterful complete-game effort.
One-Loss Bracket Final
North Sanpete 2
A three-run home run by Peterson in the second inning got Grantsville started, and the Cowboys never looked back as they advanced to the championship round and earned a rematch with Manti. Cowan hit a solo home run in the top of the fifth inning and added an RBI single in the sixth, while Butler also had an RBI single. Peterson allowed two runs on two hits with four strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings to pick up the win, while Frischknecht slammed the door on the Hawks (20-10) with 3 2/3 innings of no-hit relief, striking out nine and walking two.
One-Loss Bracket Semifinal
Grantsville 7, Grand 1
After the Red Devils (19-8) took the lead in the top of the third inning on a solo home run by Hannah Owen, the Cowboys answered with back-to-back home runs by Butler and Jaelynn DeLaney and never looked back. Butler was 3-for-4 and drove in two runs and Cowan added an RBI and a run scored. Cowan was the winning pitcher, allowing one run on four hits with seven strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter in four-plus innings. Frischknecht threw three innings of one-hit ball, striking out seven.
One-Loss Bracket Quarterfinal
Grantsville 2, Union 1,
Peterson allowed just one run on three hits in eight innings, and the Cowboys scored the game-winning run in the international tiebreaker on an error to keep their season alive.
“(Peterson) came out and she just threw shells, man,” Taylor said. “She was on fire. Our defense made some great plays. They had just lost, so they were a little sad, but they just came back knowing they had to win.”
The Cougars (22-8-1) mishandled a hard-hit ground ball up the first-base line by Bailey Frischknecht, allowing runner Brooklyn Frischknecht to score from third. Butler hit a home run to lead off the fifth inning for the Cowboys.
Manti 7, Grantsville 6
The Cowboys fell into the one-loss bracket with their first state-tournament loss in three years as Manti rallied from a 4-1 deficit. The game was delayed in the bottom of the fifth when Templars outfielder Lexi Nipko was injured after flipping over the outfield fence in an attempt to field Sandberg’s home run, and Manti seized the momentum from there with four runs in the top of the sixth inning. Peterson was credited with the loss after allowing the last of those four runs, while Bailey Frischknecht allowed six runs on four hits with 10 strikeouts, five walks and a hit batter in five-plus innings. Peterson, Sandberg, Butler and Jaelynn DeLaney each homered in the game for Grantsville.
Grantsville 10, Juab 0,
Bailey Frischknecht threw a complete-game four-hitter, striking out 12 and walking just one as the Cowboys shut out the Wasps on Friday afternoon. Peterson was 3-for-3 with a double, three RBIs and a run scored, and Butler hit a three-run home run.