This is my third season covering high school softball in Tooele County.
In that time, I’ve witnessed some of the best softball being played in the Beehive State, regardless of classification. I’d be willing to put money on the idea that Tooele, Grantsville and Stansbury would be more than just competitive if they had to play in Class 5A instead of 3A.
The best games have often been when the three Tooele County squads face each other. But that’s not to say the rest of the region schedule is mere cannon fodder — especially not this year.
In years past, it was Bear River that gave our local teams fits with its own state championship-winning pedigree. The Bears couldn’t have been happy watching Stansbury reel off three straight state titles, knocking them from the perch they’ve so often occupied until they won the whole thing last year. But then the Utah High School Activities Association intervened through realignment, swapping Bear River and Ben Lomond for Union and Park City.
The Tooele County teams seemed like they could breathe a little easier with the Bears joining Logan, Ridgeline, Ben Lomond, Juan Diego and Morgan. No longer would three-fourths of the region schedule create playoff-level intensity. At the beginning of the 2016 season, Union was mediocre and Park City was a non-factor. And then this year came along.
While Park City isn’t going to make the state tournament this year, that’s as much a product of being the odd team out in a loaded region as it is the Miners’ own struggles — they’re improving bit by bit, and would be a factor in any of the other three Class 3A regions.
But Union? The long bus trip to Roosevelt suddenly is more than just an aggravation for visiting teams. There’s a very real risk of coming home with a loss.
The Cougars started to make some noise toward the end of last season, and now they look ready to take the next step. They’ve already knocked off Tooele and boast a 15-4 overall record.
Add that to a Tooele team that has a pair of heartbreaking close region losses, a team at Stansbury that wants nothing more than to return to the top and Grantsville’s girls wanting to leave a lasting impression before the rest of the region jumps up in classification next year, and you have a recipe for a thrilling region race.
Tuesday’s 7-6, extra-inning showdown between Stansbury and Tooele was just a taste of what we can expect the rest of the season. I think it’s safe to say that neither team deserved to lose that one, but one of them had to. Both teams played exceedingly well in a high-pressure situation comparable to what they’ll see in Spanish Fork at the state tournament next month.
I may be a professional sports writer, but I am a sports fan first and foremost. That game was a treat to watch, and having watched hundreds of softball games over the years, I can honestly say that was one of the better ones I’ve seen.
And, to think — that was just the first one of the season in the three-way Tooele County rivalry that usually decides the region title.
Something tells me we’re in for a fun ride this spring. Where it leads, nobody knows for sure, but there’s a strong possibility that at least one of the local squads, if not two or all three, will be playing on the final day of the state tournament.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He finds few sporting events more entertaining than a good old-fashioned rivalry game. Email him at email@example.com.