Team of the Year: Bear River softball wins state tournament, inches further up record books
Twenty years ago, Bear River High School beat Tooele in the state softball championship games after the Bears came through the one-loss bracket and beat the Buffaloes twice to win the title.
That was BR’s first softball state title in school history. Its 10th was accomplished pretty much the same way in May earlier this year.
Facing one of Utah’s best pitchers in Tooele’s Attlyn Johnston, Bear River lost the first game of the 4A state softball championship series, then rebounded the next day to win two games by scores of 4-2 and 14-6 to take home its 10th softball championship in school history.
It completed a challenging playoff run filled with requisite blowouts, comebacks and close wins by the Bears (28-6), who are the 2021 Standard-Examiner All-Area Softball Team of the Year.
Every year, Bear River is a big factor in the state softball tournament, owing to several things: its number of talented players, an established winning tradition that attracts tons of players, and the coaching staff.
Head coach Calvin Bingham praised the 2021 team’s leadership.
“This team had outstanding seniors, not just in their ability to play, but in their personal character and work ethic,” he said.
“We had a couple things that our captains said, ‘hey, we don’t do that on this team,’ and I wont elaborate about that, but I thought it showed a lot of leadership and lot of maturity.”
At the start of the season, Bingham said he felt the team could be good, but pitching was the big question because the main pitchers to start the season were two juniors and two sophomores with little to no experience.
“As I look back, though, I think that was — I mean I don’t think we were completely dominating, but yet our pitching was really good,” Bingham said.
In particular, sophomore Kate Dahle shouldered most of the innings and was Bingham’s pitcher of choice for the big games against teams like Ridgeline and Tooele.
Dahle struck out 161 batters in 126 innings and her earned run average was 2.17 this season, right in line with fellow pitchers Baylee Sorensen (45 2/3 innings, 1.99 ERA) and Jordyn Warren (42 innings, 2.17 ERA).
Throughout Region 11 games, only Ridgeline came reasonably close to challenging Bear River for the region championship. The Bears won both those meetings and finished the region campaign undefeated, clinching a fifth straight region title and a 15th in school history.
It seemingly set Bear River on a high going into the state tournament before the Bears tripped over a hurdle in an 8-7 loss to Syracuse towards the end of the regular season
“In hindsight, that loss, we worked on some things defensively that really helped us,” Bingham said. Those defensive things dealt with coverage on certain plays, who goes where and when in certain situations.
The playoffs were difficult once BR got to the business end of the state tournament in Spanish Fork, and it needed every bit of defensive help it could get.
The Bears used a three-run third inning to beat Uintah 4-2 and a four-run first inning that started a 9-2 drubbing of Crimson Cliffs.
An eight-run sixth that turned a 7-4 semifinals deficit against Snow Canyon into a 12-7 win continued a theme the team established throughout the year.
“This team, more than perhaps any other team I’ve coached, seemed to feed off each other. Both times we played Ridgeline, once we got going, we scored a bunch of runs and the first time we scored eight runs in the sixth inning,” Bingham said. “When we played Snow Canyon in the state tournament, same thing, we were down 7-1 and all of a sudden we started to hit the ball, the kids just fed off each other.”
Johnston, the Tooele pitcher, shut BR down in the first game of the championship series to win 5-0. Bear River left nine runners on base that game and Bingham told the team it needed timely hits the next day.
Oddly enough, the hitting was hardly an issue throughout the season and may have been the strong point of the team. Five players finished the season hitting .350 or better, with three of those above the .400 mark.
Two of those, McCall and Oaklie Maxfield, started the top of the first inning of the second championship-series game with back-to-back solo home runs that crucially gave BR a 2-0 lead.
Olivia Taylor, a center-fielder who hit .402, a College of Southern Idaho signee and a nightmare on the basepaths for opposing teams, lept over the fence in center field to deny a home run in a catch that went viral, made it on SportsCenter and preserved a 4-2 lead.
“I think the biggest thing was our energy and our want to win. Our dugout was super loud and they really wanted to get things done. Even when we were on defense, we could hear them cheering us on so it was just a team effort,” Taylor said after the games.
The 4-2 scoreline held, then BR torched the Buffaloes 14-6 in the third-game decider. McCall Maxfield, a .447 hitter who finished the year with 51 RBIs, 17 doubles, nine triples and seven homers, hit another long ball in the 14-6 win.
That secured the 10th team softball championship for the Bears, which ties the state record. All 10 have been won since Bingham became the head coach and, as far as coaching goes, Bingham stands alone atop the record books with the 10 championships.
Bingham, 74, said he still enjoys coaching even if he doesn’t have the energy he once did. Particularly, he loves the challenge every year of taking a group of kids helping turn them into a group of good ballplayers.
Bear River’s been pretty good at just that for the past couple decades.