San Juan High School softball team falls in state one-loss quarterfinal but finishes fourth in the Utah 2A for best season in eight years
by Rhett Sifford
The San Juan High School softball team had high hopes of winning the 2023 2A Utah State Tournament as they made the trip to Spanish Fork this past Thursday through Saturday, May 11-13.
It was smooth sailing for the Lady Broncos through the first two rounds as they cruised through Panguitch on May 6 and South Sevier on May 11 with scores of 15-0 and 10-0 respectively.
But in the state quarterfinals on May 12 they came up against their toughest opponent to date in the #2-seeded Duchesne Lady Eagles. In the teams’ regular season meetings on April 14 Duchesne had crushed San Juan 19-4 and 17-2.
In the game this past Friday, May 12 it was the Lady Broncos drawing first blood when they opened with a run in the top of the first. But from that point Duchesne began to steadily take control, scoring one in the second, one in the third, and three in the fourth to take a 5-1 lead.
The Lady Eagles continued to hold San Juan off the board until they added three more runs to their lead in the top of the sixth to make the score 8-1 and give the Lady Broncos a severe uphill climb in their final at bat.
San Juan did muster one run, but the damage was done and they were dropped into the one-loss bracket for the remainder of the tournament. Following the loss the Lady Broncos would need five straight wins to earn the state title.
There was no time to even think about it. Facing elimination the team was set to take on Beaver in the very next game in the one-loss quarterfinals. It was the Lady Beavers’ first game of the day as they had been resting since Thursday night after crushing Millard 22-7.
It was a tough battle, one in which San Juan faced a deficit for almost the entire game. Beaver opened the scoring with two runs in the first. San Juan answered with a run in their half of the first and another in the second to tie.
It stayed 2-2 until the top of the fifth inning when Beaver retook the lead 3-2. In the bottom of the fifth San Juan again rallied and this time they took their first lead of the game when Trinity Whatcott hit an RBI single and Adriana Johnson followed up with an RBI double.
The Lady Beavers tied the game again when they plated a baserunner in the top of the sixth. But the Lady Broncos put it away in the bottom of the inning when freshman Averie Gilson absolutely crushed a one-out, three-run homer over the left field fence.
At the time she hit the home run she was 0-3 on the day at the plate. The clutch hit secured a 7-4 win for San Juan after they were able to keep Beaver off the scoreboard one final time in the top of the seventh.
The win moved the Lady Broncos into the final four and a one-loss semifinal matchup with the tough Parowan Lady Rams. The game began scant minutes after the girls’ matchup with Beaver and was their third contest in a row.
It went poorly for San Juan from the start. Neither team scored in the first inning but Parowan exploded for seven runs in the top of the second.
The Lady Broncos scored three in the bottom of the inning to keep it respectable, but the Lady Rams took control from that point, adding three runs in the third, three in the fourth, and an insurmountable six in the fifth.
When San Juan was unable to get the deficit back down under nine runs in the bottom of the fifth they suffered defeat via ten-run rule by a final of 19-3. It was a disappointing way to finish the season but the girls have absolutely no reason to hang their heads.
They battled hard all season long, and especially in the state tournament. Facing adversity with elimination on the line, they stayed tough and fought through the final innings of all their games to keep their state title hopes alive.
All-in-all it was an excellent season for the Lady Broncos – their best since 2015 when they were the 2A runners-up. They finished fourth in the state with a 22-11 overall record. They were third in the 2A Central with a 9-3 record.
Trinity Whatcott was the team’s leading batter on the year. She was an astounding .500 at the plate, hitting safely in 48 of her 96 at bats. She had 32 RBIs, 12 doubles, 2 triples, a home run, and scored 21 runs.
Elise Dalley was right in the mix, hitting .421 on the year with 24 hits, 25 RBIs, six doubles, and two triples. Sadie Cosby was third in line with a .397 average. She had 27 hits, 24 RBIs, two doubles, and a triple.
Hailie Palmer was directly behind Whatcott stats-wise. She hit for .386 this season with 32 hits, 31 RBIs, eight doubles, and four triples.
Avina Cordova had an outstanding year for the Lady Broncos with a .384 average, 33 hits, 20 RBIs, 11 doubles, two triples, and a homer. Kaeah Howard hit .372 with 29 hits, 29 RBIs, eight doubles, two triples, and a home run.
Averie Gilson was .368 at the plate for San Juan this year. Her game-winning home run against Beaver was her team-high third on the season. Additionally she had 32 hits, 31 RBIs, ten doubles, and one triple.
Adriana Johnson went .361 for the team this season with 26 hits, 24 RBIs six doubles, and three triples. And Synessa Atcitty was .277 on the season with 13 hits, 17 RBIs, one double, and one home run.
Cordova led San Juan with 17 stolen bases in 2023. Gilson snagged 15, Johnson swiped 14, Howard had 11, and Morgann McPherson and Naataanii Lacy collected ten apiece.
On the mound it was Whatcott leading the way with a 9-6 record in 28 appearances. She struck out 166 opposition batters, had a 5.85 ERA, and of course the amazing perfect game in the state first round. It was just the 20th perfect game in Utah softball history.
Gilson was 2-2 on the year in 13 appearances with a 10.37 ERA and she struck out 25 batters. Katira Keith was 2-1 with a 6.22 ERA and also 25 Ks in six appearances. And Kadience Mitchell was 1-0 with an 11.20 ERA and 13 strikeouts in five appearances.
The Lady Broncos will lose the services of Avina Cordova, Hailie Palmer, Naataanii Lacy, Adriana Johnson, and Kaeah Howard. All five seniors will graduate when the school year comes to a close.
But there is a lot of young talent and some varsity experience waiting in the wings to step into major roles in coming seasons. The future for head coach Mike Bowers and the San Juan High School softball team is very bright indeed.
I asked Coach Bowers to share his thoughts on the state tournament, the season, and the team via email after the Lady Broncos returned from the state tournament. Turn to page B2 to read an abridged version of our conversation.