The Tooele softball team is establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with in the first month of the season, thanks to timely offense, solid defense and dominant pitching.
Tuesday’s Region 11 showdown with county rival Stansbury was the latest example of how good the Buffaloes can be when everything is clicking, as Tooele beat the Stallions 11-0 in five innings at the Deseret Peak Complex behind home runs from Madi Baker and Paige Rydalch and a one-hitter by sophomore pitcher Attlyn Johnston. Things couldn’t have gone much better for Tooele (8-1, 3-0 Region 11), which didn’t allow a baserunner until the fifth inning.
“I think we’re carrying on our momentum from last year,” said Johnston, who struck out nine and didn’t walk anybody in her five innings of work. “We’re definitely still improving on some things and we still do have a lot to work on.”
At one point, Johnston struck out six out of seven batters, including striking out the top three batters in the Stallions’ lineup in order in the top of the fourth inning. It was a new experience for a young Stansbury squad (5-4, 0-2) just getting its feet wet at the varsity level.
“We’re super young and we haven’t faced pitching like that yet this year,” Stansbury coach Bridget Clinton said. “They battled. (Johnston’s) a tough pitcher so we knew we weren’t going to get a whole lot of runs facing her.”
Tooele nearly took a 1-0 lead in the first inning as leadoff hitter Baker hit a deep fly ball to center field, only to have Stallions center fielder Maame Johnson make a home run-saving catch at the fence. The Buffs started to put things together in the bottom of the second, with back-to-back singles by Jocelyn Jenkins and Natalee Bevan helping to spark a three-run frame.
Then, Tooele turned to a little bit of small ball against Stansbury starter Lily Morris in the bottom of the third. After Kate Hogan and Jenkins each singled to lead off the inning, Hope Weight, Bryerly Avina and Rylee Anderson all got on base with picture-perfect bunts to get on base. With Tooele leading 4-0 and the bases loaded, Baker drove a pitch deep over the left-field fence for a grand slam that doubled the Buffs’ advantage.
“We just did the little things,” Tooele coach Marissa Lowry said. “We made sure that we were ready for their pitcher and we came out and swung the bat.”
Rydalch led off the bottom of the fourth with a solo home run down the left-field line for Tooele. With one out, Jenkins doubled and Bevan singled, leading the Stallions to make a pitching change. With Kayla Thornock in the circle for Stansbury, Weight bunted for a single and Avina’s base hit to center field drove in the Buffs’ final two runs.
It was more than enough run support for Johnston and the Tooele defense. After Stansbury’s Lacey Davies broke up Johnston’s perfect game with a line-drive single to right, Johnston got Sadie Taylor to hit a grounder that second baseman Weight turned into a double play, and after Baylee Angelo reached base on an error, McKinzy Lawson struck out to end the contest.
“I’ve been working a lot more on my mechanics in my practice, and that’s been helping me improve day by day,” Johnston said. “To me, every game is a game that I should give my best, whether it’s a rivalry game or a state game or anything — it should all be the same.”
The loss marked the second consecutive run-rule defeat for the Stallions, who lost their region opener 23-11 to Bonneville. However, Clinton was encouraged by what she saw from her team.
“(Morris) did a good job and we had a lot of good defensive plays,” Clinton said. “The final score was 11-0, but it was a close game until those bunt singles and the home run.”
Tuesday’s win was just the beginning of a busy week for Tooele, which defeated Ben Lomond 15-0 on Wednesday. The Buffs will travel to Washington Terrace on Friday to face Bonneville in a battle of Region 11’s top two teams.
“For us, it’s just keeping our composure out there and being patient, not letting the momentum of the game dictate what our next move is,” Lowry said. “As of right now, it’s just one game at a time. You never know what to expect out of this region, so we have to treat everyone the same and continue to play Lady Buffs softball.”