TAYLORSVILLE -- It wasn't in the bag just yet, but Roy's second consecutive state softball title was close at hand when fans began chanting "Back to back! Back to back!"
Spurring their team on, Roy's vocal supporters turned up the volume even higher as right fielder Brittnee Higgs made a diving catch to close out the Royals' 5-2 victory over Salem Hills Thursday afternoon at the Valley Complex.
"It hasn't all set in yet, but I know as soon as we get on the bus everyone will be bawling," said winning pitcher Jamie Aiken, who earned a complete-game victory.
Sure enough, amid the celebration afterward, tears of joy flowed as freely as shouts of joy.
Unlike last season's state title, this one sort of came in from left field. Having lost star pitcher MaCauley Flint to graduation, the Royals weren't expected to capture another title. But that's exactly what they did thanks to Aiken's pitching and the timely hitting of teammates Bryce Mitchell and Jordynn Barrera.
After giving up a pair of solo home runs in the second inning, Aiken, a senior, settled in and surrendered just three hits the rest of the way.
On the offensive side, Mitchell ripped a three-run homer in the bottom of the third and Barrera drove in another run with a ground-rule double to compete a four-run frame.
"Last year I felt that if we wouldn't have won it all, it would have been a major disappointment," coach Amanda Koford said. "If we wouldn't have won everything last year, then it would have been the worst season of my life.
"That's what makes this one so sweet and so fun is that we weren't expected to do it. And they didn't care. They just said 'We're gonna go out there and play until they won't let us.' Luckily for us, we got to keep playing."
Despite a few anxious moments along the way - during the regular season as well as that tournament - Roy always seemed to make big plays at critical moments and if anyone on the team had any doubts, they weren't expressed publicly.
"Initially, everyone kept saying 'Hey, why are you keeping it so close?'" Koford said.
"It got to the point we made it to the tournament, that's where we knew we wanted to be. It got to the point I just said, 'I don't care; I don't care. As long as we've got one more run in the bottom of the seventh inning, I don't care."
Smiling from ear to ear as her players, their families and classmates celebrated around her, Koford said she knew those tight ballgames and narrow victories were stressful for everyone involved. But, she added, she knew getting to the tournament would provide something special.
"What Roy has a lot of, is fans," she said. "And with their support I knew that once we came down here that crowd would bring (the players) to the level they needed to play at. We're lucky to have the community we do and that made it quite a bit easier."
It seemed nothing came easy in the title game. Roy's early 1-0 lead was erased in the top of the second when Salem Hills' Alexis Parker and Hailey Ingram hit solo home runs off Aiken. But the Royals rallied as they often did this season, highlighted by Mitchell's three-run shot in the fourth. After Barrera's RBI double later that inning, Roy had all the runs it would need, even though the Skyhawks kept threatening.
With two runners aboard in the top of the sixth, Aiken refocused and got two strikeouts to end the inning.
After getting the first two outs in the top of the seventh, it took a highlight-reel catch in right field to close the show.
"For us seniors, we really wanted to leave a legacy on the field, be legends of softball," Aiken said. "We wanted to wrap it up like that."
Signed, sealed and delivered, Roy's second straight state title was finally in the bag.