While they called themselves lucky and chanted about Reese’s Puffs, that takes a back seat to what the Ridgeline softball team accomplished Saturday afternoon in St. George.
For the first time in school history, the Riverhawks are state champs. Ridgeline did it in convincing fashion at Dixie State University against Region 11 rival Bear River in the 4A State Softball Championship.
The Riverhawks made the most of their first appearance with a title on the line. They took the first two games of a best-of-three series against the Bears, winning Saturday, 8-2.
“This doesn’t feel real; it feels like a dream,” Ridgeline pitcher Markessa Jensen said.
“This feeling is amazing,” Riverhawk shortstop Kenzee Hale said. “It’s unreal.”
Center fielder Brinn Anderson said the win was for all former Riverhawks. This is the sixth year of existence of the school.
“In my heart, this is a win for all the former players,” Anderson said. “They are still part of it.”
Before Friday, Ridgeline (26-5) had dropped six straight to Bear River (28-5). Now the Riverhawks have won two in a row. These two were big with a state championship on the line.
“Winning Friday was really big,” Jensen said. “Our goal was to come out (Saturday) and just do it.”
“We knew after winning that first game that if we could score in the first inning, things would get rolling for us, and we did that,” Ridgeline’s Katelyn Leishman said. “… Everyone contributed in every way. Without our dugout, we would not have won any of those games. Everybody played their role really well.”
And winning the championship game gave the team one last chance to chant “Reese’s Puffs” at the conclusion of the season. When a player makes a good play, they got “puffed.” It became a team battle cry toward the end of the season.
“We got it from Tik-Tok,” Anderson said of the Reese’s Puffs chant. “We stole it from there. Everybody loves it. It’s our new wave of momentum.”
Once again it was a team effort by Ridgeline. Nine Riverhawks recorded a hit as they finished with 13. Jensen pitched another gem, but got plenty of help from the defense as she struck out three and the remaining 18 outs came from plays in the field.
“That is crazy that we had nine kids get a hit,” Ridgeline head coach Mike Anderson said. “… And we made a lot of routine defensive plays. We just got out after out.”
Adi Hansen, Brinn Anderson, Ellie Pond and Hale each had two hits apiece. Brinn Anderson, Pond and speed-up runner Allie Williams each scored twice. Anne Wallace led the team with two RBIs, and Abbie Banning had the only extra-base hit with a double. Karli Gowen had a single to round out the hitting, and Mak Jorgensen made plays in right field.
“Everybody played their part from fans to the team,” Hale said. “It was a team effort.”
Then there is Jensen. The coach declared she is the best pitcher in the state. Jensen walked just one batter Saturday to go along with her three strikeouts. The senior allowed just five hits.
“Kessa just came out and threw like the best pitcher in the state,” coach Anderson said. “… Markessa left no doubt who the best pitcher was.”
What was her approach the past four days?
“I just tried to view them as any other team and not think that it was Bear River,” Jensen said. “I knew that I had my defense right behind me. If they were to hit the ball, my defense would back the play up and get an out. I have full faith in them.”
While the Riverhawks went out and earned the title by going undefeated in St. George, they still referred to themselves as lucky.
“Our definition of luck is: luck is something that you do to prepare to make yourself lucky,” coach Anderson said. “It’s in the preparation.”
The Bears got two of their five hits from Kynlei Nelson. McCall Maxfield had an RBI double for the only extra-base base knock. Kate Dahl went the distance in the circle, striking out six and walking one.
“I have great respect for them (Bears),” coach Anderson said. “Bear River is the best team in the state, and today we were the best team.”
Ridgeline wasted no time in throwing the first punch Saturday after gutting out a seventh-inning rally for a 3-2 win on Friday. The Riverhawks scored three runs in the top of the first and never looked back.
“Our feeling was, let’s not leave this for two games,” coach Anderson said. “We talked as a coaching staff that we were going to throw everything at them that we possibly had. We wanted to go and get it in one game.”
“We had an entire team effort from people in the dugout cheering us on no matter what to people in the field,” Brinn Anderson said. “It was a full out team effort. The energy was full out. I will be real honest, after our second win against Crimson Cliffs, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to win. I was so positive.”
Brinn Anderson singled to right to start the hits for the designated visitors. Pond followed with a single to left. Jensen then helped her cause with a RBI single up the middle to score Anderson. Pond would come home as well on a throwing error by the Bears. Wallace made it 3-0 with an RBI groundout.
“When Noodle (Hansen, the leadoff hitter) doesn’t get on and we score three runs, that is stifling,” coach Anderson said.
Bear River began the game with a single from Nelson. That would be it for the Bears in the bottom half of the first. In fact, the defending state champions didn’t get on the scoreboard until the sixth.
Nelson had an infield single to begin the sixth for Bear River. Maxfield’s double brought Nelson home. The only walk issued by Jensen and the lone error of the game by the Riverhawks led to a second run as the Bears pulled within a run before Jensen stopped the rally with a strikeout.
“We knew they (Bears) would have a punch and knew it was coming,” coach Anderson said. “We took that punch in the sixth, but left a runner on second, the tying run, in a 3-2 game. Then we reloaded and went to work. And it was everybody contributing.”
Yes, the Riverhawks certainly did reload.
Ridgeline promptly thwarted any thoughts of the Bears forcing a third game. Shelby Blankenship took the first pitch she saw in the top of the seventh and placed it in center for a single. After a sacrifice bunt by Eliza Arledge, Hansen slapped her way to an RBI single, scoring Williams. A bunt single by Brinn Anderson and a Bear River error led to the speedy Hansen scoring. The Riverhawks were just getting started.
Pond singled and Jensen drew a walk to load the bases with one out. Wallace had an infield RBI single to keep the bags juiced. Hale came through with a RBI bloop single to right. Banning then hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field. The rally ended when the Bears were able to get a double play after the sac fly, getting the ball back to first when the Riverhawk runner didn’t tag.
Jensen needed just six pitches to end the game and clinch the title. She enticed a pop up, struck out a batter and got a second pop up to Hale at shortstop. Hale made the catch, dropped her mitt and ran toward Jensen, giving her a bear hug, and the celebration was on.
“As soon as I made that catch, I knew immediately that we were state champs,” Hale said. “… We are celebrating by eating food and then when we get home we are going to celebrate some more.”
The Riverhawks have four seniors in Jensen, Hale, Anderson and Leishman.
“This state championship has been a long time coming,” Leishman said. “There are a bunch of us that have been playing for a long time. I’ve been playing with Markessa and Brinnley for 11 years now. We knew we would get it.”
To battle the heat and keep their bodies right, Ridgeline used 1,100 pounds of ice during its stay in St. George. They ended their trip south with ice water being thrown on them in celebration.
After a celebratory meal at Winger’s, the Riverhawks boarded the bus for the ride home.
“We are going to celebrate all the way home,” Jensen said.