MORGAN — Billy Peterson remembers holding open softball practices before the season started and seeing as few as four or five girls show up.
Surrounding the Morgan High softball coach in the Trojans’ indoor practice facility, he’d see either the 60-plus kids on the track team, the 30-plus kids on the baseball team or the 30-plus kids or the soccer team waiting for their time to practice.
“It was almost embarrassing because the other coach would be looking around and looking at us thinking, ‘What are you guys doing here?’ We have four or five girls coming in for practice, how do you even get a practice done?” Peterson said.
He honestly didn’t know if Morgan would be able to field a softball team this season. Neither did the players, and that made them nervous.
“It was pretty scary. I really love this game and I just wanted to play,” senior Hailey Logsdon said.
The Trojans eventually had 13 players try out and have played with 11 — and just the one senior, Logsdon — since the first tournament of the season concluded.
For contrast, Peterson talked to Grantsville head coach Heidi Taylor, who told him she had 80 girls try out for the softball team there. Before Morgan’s tryouts, Peterson said he was lucky to have eight players show up to practice.
“I’m looking around at all these other teams and they pull in to our field for the game, and their bus is completely full and I’m thinking, ‘Well, here we are. We’re small but we’re going to give you everything we’ve got,’” Peterson said.
One would think those circumstances wouldn’t bring success, yet Morgan is in the midst of its best season in decades.
With Saturday marking the start of the 3A state softball tournament, the Trojans are 16-9 and carry a .348 team batting average, a second-place finish in Region 13 and a little bit of wind in their sails.
Morgan will face fifth-seeded South Sevier in the first round at 11 a.m. Saturday at Grand County High School in Moab. But at Thursday’s practice, those state playoff preparations involved just seven players and one assistant coach.
Teams with as few players as Morgan typically struggle and the Trojans have, but, this season will bring the program’s first winning record since 2009.
“Morgan’s known for volleyball, basketball and soccer and not known much at all for softball yet. We’re trying to put that on the map,” Peterson said.
Three Morgan players bat better than .400, led by sophomore Danielle Cook (.440, 13 RBIs), freshman Haylee Pickrell (.429, 18 RBIs) and junior Karly Peterson (.420, 24 RBIs, 10 doubles).
Perhaps more notably, Karly Peterson, who is Billy Peterson’s daughter, has pitched 135 1/3 innings this season — or 92.4% of the team’s total innings.
How is such a small team having such a big year?
For starters, the smaller team means there’s a higher coach-to-player ratio, and therefore more time to spend on fine details.
Then there’s Billy Peterson’s competitive nature, which comes from a successful career as a jockey in the 1990s. That nature is definitely felt by the players.
“Everyone’s been having much better attitudes and wanting to be better, I think that makes a big difference,” Logsdon said.
The team size also lends itself to better chemistry and there’s a smaller chance of cliques developing, something that can erode even the most talented squads.
“I think a lot of it’s helped by how we treat each other off the field. We’re all really good friends and we like to hang out outside of softball, so I think that helps us work better together while we’re on the field,” junior Rachel Edgington said.
While the team’s record indicates that 2019 has been a good year so far, it’s had its physically exhausting moments.
Varsity softball games typically start at 3:30 p.m. and, once they’re over, there’s a little break before the junior varsity games.
After a team talk, a quick sip of water and maybe a snack, the Trojans get right back on the field for JV games and if they’ve already lost the varsity game, the JV game can be rough.
“It’s been hard physically but I think it’s also been nice because we all get more playing time, we can become better in the JV games, correct our mistakes from varsity,” Edgington said.
But having 11 players is still challenging for obvious reasons. Take a day like Thursday when only seven girls were at practice.
Assistant coach Greg Mikesell ran situational drills with the team, but if a ball scooted past the infield on the right side, there was no right fielder to back up the play.
There are no full-team scrimmages, so the coaches have to get creative.
Billy Peterson said he has another daughter in middle school and one of the assistant coaches has two daughters in middle school. Guess who got to go to softball practice with dad and run the bases?
Billy Peterson is giddy about next year because 10 of those 11 players return. The thing about high school sports in 2019: success breeds success. If you build it, they will come.