The Tooele softball team did exactly what it set out to do Monday afternoon at the Deseret Peak Complex, cruising past Logan and Desert Hills in their first-round Class 4A state tournament “pod” to put itself in prime position for a run at a state title.
The Buffaloes (25-1-1) hit six home runs in the two games, including three from junior outfielder Amber Lujan, and freshman pitcher Attlyn Johnston had 25 strikeouts in 12 innings as Tooele rolled.
“(Johnston) has grown so much from the very beginning until now, but she wouldn’t be where she is without her teammates,” Tooele coach Marissa Lowry said. “They continue to push her. When she’s not on, she leans on them, but they also lean on her. What she can do in the circle means they can kind of relax in the field.”
It took Johnston a bit to get settled in against Logan in the opener, as the Grizzlies loaded the bases with one out in the top of the first before Johnston recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the thread. Then, in the bottom of the first, Lujan followed Bryerly Avina’s one-out bunt single with a two-run home run to right-center, sending Tooele on its way to a 10-0, five-inning victory.
“We all know our part,” Lujan said. “If someone comes in off the bench to run for someone, we all know what we’re doing. We know our part and we execute.”
Lujan added an RBI double in the third, and hit a solo home run to left in the fifth. Payton Hammond added a solo home run as well against Logan.
That set up a second-round game against Desert Hills, the No. 2 seed from Region 9, and Thunder ace pitcher Brianna St. Clair. After St. Clair hit a leadoff infield single and came around to score on two passed balls and a wild pitch in the top of the first inning, the Buffs wasted no time getting their revenge and establishing themselves as the team to beat. Madi Baker led off with a single, and Avina walked and Lujan singled to load the bases. Hammond then got a hold of a 2-0 pitch from St. Clair and blasted it over the right-center field fence for a grand slam, putting Tooele up 4-1 en route to a 10-4 victory.
“(Hammond) made a statement,” Lowry said. “For (Johnston’s) teammates to pick her up — we have a solid lineup, so it’s fun to see from 1 to 9, whoever can step up and hit.”
Makenna Baker added an RBI single in the bottom of the third to make it a 5-1 Tooele lead. Desert Hills responded with a solo home run by Addi Betts in the top of the fourth, but Lujan and the Buffs had yet another answer. Lujan followed back-to-back singles by Madi Baker and Avina with a three-run home run to left that stretched the lead to 8-2, all but ending the Thunder’s comeback hopes.
“I just went up there and wasn’t in my head like I have been the last couple games, and I just went up and did what I knew how to do,” Lujan said.
Emma Jackson added a solo home run on the first pitch of the fifth inning, and Lujan scored on an error in the sixth. Katelyn Philips drove in Desert Hills’ final two runs with a two-out ground-rule double in the fifth.
On Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in Spanish Fork, Tooele will face the top team that emerges from Tuesday’s “pod” in Garland that includes Region 12 champion Bear River, Region 10 runner-up Uintah, Region 9 No. 3 Snow Canyon and Region 11 No. 4 Ogden.
“At this point, it’s whoever shows up to play,” Lowry said. “We’re going to continue playing great teams, so you have to bring your ‘A’ game every single game.”