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All-Area Softball Team of the Year: Chemistry, talent inched Box Elder closer to 5A title

2024 Standard-Examiner All-Area Softball Team of the Year

By CONNER BECKER - Standard-Examiner | Jun 22, 2024

CONNER BECKER, Standard-Examiner

The Box Elder softball dugout cheers for an at-bat during a 5A state contest against Taylorsville on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Valley Regional Softball Complex in Taylorsville.

Box Elder head softball coach Brian Merrill will be the first to tell you his program has all the makings of state champions. The Bees’ 24-6 run fell short of those accolades this season, but not for lack of chemistry, raw talent or desire.

Just six losses are littered across Region 5 runner-up Box Elder’s schedule, with no losing skid extending beyond a single game — a trait Merrill feels this year’s team wore on their sleeve each week.

“It’s really hard to beat us twice,” Merrill said.

Box Elder is the 2024 Standard-Examiner All-Area Softball Team of the Year.

Led by four senior veterans and a bevy of upcoming talent, the Bees charged into the postseason flying a seven-game winning streak above their heads. Three more wins across super regionals and bracket play set Box Elder up face-to-face with top seed Spanish Fork.

CONNER BECKER, Standard-Examiner

Box Elder is jubilant after clearing a side during a 5A playoff matchup with Spanish Fork on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, at Valley Regional Softball Complex.

Eventual 5A state champs, the Dons overcame a four-run Box Elder lead to shove the Bees into the one-loss part of bracket play and later closed the book in the semifinal.

Senior Kellie Malan, who stayed in the circle right up until the decisive seventh inning, recalls the finish all too well.

“The Spanish Fork loss was hard,” said Malan, who currently works for Brigham City Recreation. “I’m proud of how far we went.”

Malan, infielder Stevie Checketts, pitcher Justy Pritchard and catcher Paige Baker each carried well the title of senior captain. Box Elder’s four seniors combined for 15 home runs, 94 RBIs and 106 total hits during the final strut of their prep careers.

“I’ve had a number of good senior classes that come in, but this one had that chemistry that you’re talking about,” Merrill said. “That’s what these four seniors did best. They took them in, they taught them how to be winners and they led with good examples.”

CONNER BECKER, Standard-Examiner

Box Elder's first base coach instructs a baserunner during a 5A state playoff matchup on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, at Valley Regional Softball Complex.

The Dons might’ve picked up a fourth consecutive state title, but Merrill can hardly wait to see what lies ahead for returning pitchers Kennadie Blackmer, Lucy Braegger and outfielder Kailee Hall in 2025. Blackmer (2.61 ERA) and Braegger (1.64 ERA) bring 126 combined strikeouts with them back to Box Elder next season.

Just as Merrill’s program invokes “a lot of documentation” during the regular season — reviewing notes and making tweaks — the offseason is a chance for the team to regroup and reset, the five-year Box Elder coach said.

“The way you decompress is you clean your wounds,” Merrill said. “You learn from it. Realize that we’re actually going to be even better next year. We’re gonna put a really good team on the field next year and, hopefully, what we learned this year will help us go a little bit further.”

Fresh wounds were abundant following the Bees’ 4-1 loss to Spanish Fork in the 5A state semifinal. As her Box Elder days came to a close, Pritchard’s postgame message to her teammates centered around gratitude, not a trophy.

“I just told them to be grateful for all the things we can do in a season,” Pritchard said. “Be grateful for the time that we have because it may not seem like it, but it goes quick and it goes so fast …”

Pritchard, who plans to study psychology at Weber State next fall, said she’s walking into post-high school life with “a sense of confidence and a sense of ‘I can do this.'”

“I’ve overcome so many struggles and those coaches have definitely been tough, but they’ve taught me that I can do the hard things and achieve things when I push myself to be better,” she said.

Connect with preps reporter Conner Becker via email at cbecker@standard.net and X @ctbecker.


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