Thunder Ridge’s district tournament fate sailed toward the sky and drifted, a fly ball off the bat of Mady Williams, whose heart raced as she watched the ball slice toward foul territory in right field.
Maybe she would have felt calmer in another scenario, but the circumstances called for nerves with a runner on second base in a tie game in the bottom of the seventh, against Highland. The winner would claim the 5A District 5/6 tournament’s top seed.
So seconds later, when she saw the contact she made had resulted in a pop-up, Williams’ heart sunk.
Oh no, Williams thought, she’s going to catch it. Highland’s right fielder looked to have a beat on the ball.
Williams, it turned out, was wrong. The ball smacked the outfield grass, Brynly Dabell darted home from second and the Titans won, 3-2, securing the district tournament’s top seed in walk-off fashion.
Talk about a way to head into the postseason.
“It’s so exciting,” Williams said. “So fun.”
“We’re peaking right now as a team,” Thunder Ridge coach Brendon Kopp said, “which is what every coach wants going into their district championships.”
Top-seeded Thunder Ridge will host fifth-seeded Madison at 2 p.m. Tuesday. It will mark the beginning of a postseason trip that, Kopp acknowledged, his team has been looking forward to for some time now.
Mostly, the Titans feel hungry, fired up. The school is in just its third year. That means a couple things: One, this is just the second full season in program history since the coronavirus pandemic wiped out last season. And two, the Titans feel a little bit like the underdog, like a group of players trying to prove themselves to the rest of a competitive 5A conference.
So far, they’ve accomplished just that, which only fuels their confidence headed into the postseason. Thunder Ridge completed the regular season atop the 5A District 5-6 conference, which is saying something considering the prestige of Highland, the program the Titans dethroned to get there.
Plus, like Kopp mentioned, the Titans will enter on the best kind of streak. It’s not just that they boast a 16-5 record, and it’s not even that they went 10-2 in conference play. It’s that they will enter on an 11-game win streak.
That dates back to April 17, when Thunder Ridge visited Highland for a doubleheader. In Game 1, the Rams secured a 9-8 win, but the Titans rebounded in Game 2 with a 4-2 win. That made things even tighter at the top of the conference, but it also springboarded the Titans into their current streak, which includes two wins over Madison (Thunder Ridge scored 20 in each), two over Idaho Falls and another two over Rigby.
Still, none of those wins did for Thunder Ridge what Friday’s victory over Highland did. Plus, it was a walk-off — over a team that had won nine straight of its own.
“That level of confidence gets the girls going,” Kopp said. “We understand that Highland always puts out an extremely athletic program, has super high-quality coaching. Tish (Coverdell) has years of experience being at and hosting districts, and being at the state level every single year. That level of respect and knowing your team can come in and compete at that level and can compete at a state level with those types of teams — there’s just nothing better as a coach.”
For the Titans, it’s been a team effort, but several individuals have made this run possible.
First, consider their offense. Over their past eight games, the Titans are averaging 9.5 runs. Sierra John, Trynly Haack, Layna Weaver and Willliams and others have anchored that effort. They’re talented and consistent, which removes some level of guesswork from their offensive attack.
Thunder Ridge has really made a living in the circle, though. Freshman Kaliann Scoresby and junior Trysta Hoffman have been the main acts. Both, Kopp said, use an array of pitches to keep batters guessing. For Scoresby, that was clear on Friday, when she went the full seven innings, yielding just two runs (none earned) on four hits, walking none and striking out a whopping 11.
It doesn’t hurt that Scoresby comes from a family of softball players. It gives her “nerves of steel,” Kopp said.
“The farther we get into the season, the more she’s stepped into those shoes,” Kopp added, “and been like, ‘Yes, absolutely. I’m ready to play the game at this level.’ She moved right into the program, and there was never a question.”
What Scoresby, Hoffman and all their teammates have in common, though, is a mindset. They aren’t angry, but they are fired up. Two seasons ago, in their first year as a program, they fell to Rigby in the district tournament, 1-0. The next, they didn’t have a season, thanks to the pandemic.
Now, they’re making up for lost time. Their hitters are finding their groove at the plate and in the field, and their pitchers — Scoresby and Hoffman, namely — are giving their team chances in every game.
If there was ever a time for the Titans to prove they’re more than just an upstart program, that they can be legitimate contenders, this is it.
“They are absolutely using it to their advantage,” Kopp said. “They want it. They want to prove themselves to everyone else, so you could say, yeah, sure, we feel like a little bit of an underdog. But at the same time, I bet you our competitors don’t feel that way about us, you know what I mean?”
Breaking down the 5A District 5/6 tournament
• No. 1 Thunder Ridge vs. No. 5 Madison — 2 p.m. Tuesday at Thunder Ridge
• No. 3 Rigby vs. No. 4 Idaho Falls — 2 p.m. Tuesday at Bonneville (Winner plays No. 2 Highland at 4 p.m. Tuesday)
• Two teams to the 5A state tournament