Even way back when the season began in March, the result of Saturday’s Class 3A softball state championship game seemed like a foregone conclusion: the trophy was coming back to Grantsville for a second consecutive year, and everyone else was playing for second place.
And while that’s the way it (unsurprisingly) turned out, make no mistake. Just because the Cowboys made it look easy at times, it certainly was far from it. That’s why the emotions flowed so freely on that field in Spanish Fork after pitcher Addison Smith fielded that ground ball and fired it over to Maison White at first base to record the final out of Grantsville’s title-game triumph over Union.
In many ways, being a good team with a target on its back is even more taxing than playing on a bad team that has more modest goals. Everyone knew Grantsville was the favorite from the moment the Cowboys won the state title last May. They were moving into a revamped Class 3A with more than half of their starting lineup returning. There would be no more postseason battles against the likes of Bear River, or regular-season region showdowns against Tooele and Stansbury.
Literally only one thing could stand between the Cowboys and their destiny — themselves. Would they buckle under the pressure? Would they be another in sports’ long line of teams that were blessed with unmatched talent, but lacked the chemistry to get it done?
The short answer? No. As coach Heidi Taylor noted time and time again in postgame interviews this season, this team really enjoyed being around each other. The word “fun” came up a lot. That shows that while the pressure was always a backdrop to every big game they played, whether it was nonregion games against Tooele, Spanish Fork or Bear River, or a state tournament game against Manti or Union, the Cowboys never let it bother them.
Taylor also deserves her fair share of credit for keeping the Cowboys on track. With so much talent available, there had to be some tough decisions. Some players weren’t going to get as much playing time — for example, senior Kylee Leach was Grantsville’s regular third baseman in 2017, but gave way to freshman August Cowan this year and took on the designated player role. The Cowboys also had an embarrassment of riches in the pitcher’s circle, with Smith, state-championship-game starter Bailey Frischknecht, Maddison Peterson and Cowan all competing for time.
But it always seemed like Taylor pushed all the right buttons at the right times. Frischknecht was lights-out in her final two starts of the season, striking out 28 in wins over Manti and Union on Friday and Saturday. Cowan dominated Union in the semifinal round Friday night. Smith shut down South Sevier in the second round the week before, and closed out Saturday’s title game. Peterson cruised in the Cowboys’ opening-round win over Providence Hall.
Grantsville will no doubt enter the 2019 season as the favorites for a third consecutive state championship. With everyone but Leach returning from this year’s team, the rest of 3A has to be looking at next season with a sense of dread.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy. This one may be the toughest test of all. But if any team is equipped to pull it off, it’s these Cowboys.
Have fun, girls.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He has covered 11 state-championship-winning softball teams over the past 12 years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.