Lady Bulldogs advance, then two losses halt title push

SPANISH FORK—After a dominating start to the playoffs, the Gunnison Valley softball team dropped two consecutive games on Friday to end the 2021 season.

After beating Utah Military Academy – Hill Field in the first round two weekends ago, the Bulldogs overwhelmed North Sevier, 16-6, on Thursday. On Friday, they lost to Beaver, 5-2, then lost to Altamont, 21-15, immediately after.

Photo courtesy Heather Nelson
Kennedi Knudsen delivers a pitch to a Beaver batter in the 2A UHSAA state tournament as centerfielder JaKelle Sorenson awaits contact.

“It was a fun game, a tense game, what state games should be,” Coach Tyson Brackett said of facing Beaver. After the “emotional” loss, “Altamont came out, they hit the ball, and we kind of struggled at one point.”

The games were Brackett’s last as head coach of Gunnison Valley softball. He is stepping down after 10 years in order to be able to support his son on the baseball team next year.

The team entered the weekend with confidence against North Sevier, a program Brackett never lost to.

“We just came out a little nervous because it was state, but our girls believe they can beat them all the time. Once you weather the storm of the emotion, everything would fall back into place.”

The next day, though, Gunnison could not get the bats going. Even some balls they hit hard flew directly to Beaver defenders.

“Beaver came out on fire on defense. We were hitting shots. I bet they made three or four diving catches,” the coach said.

Kennedi Knudsen’s 10 strikeouts were not enough in the low scoring game. Beaver led 3-0 in the sixth. The Bulldogs put two runs on the board that inning, but the Beavers answered with two of their own the next inning, which they did not even need, ultimately.

Altamont, which initially lost earlier in the playoff bracket than Gunnison did, got to come into the elimination game against Gunnison fresh, not having played that day. 

“There was just no time to recover,” Brackett said. The Longhorns piled on runs early and led 6-0 after two innings. Gunnison answered with three, though, in the third. 

Photo courtesy Nona Dyreng
In the middle of an inning against North Sevier, Gunnison players (L-R) Raven Pickett, Rilee Dyreng, Lexee Keisel, Kennedi Knudsen and Bentlee King huddle up on the mound.

In the last four innings, both teams scored multiple runs each inning, but Altamont never lost its lead.

Brackett said the young team progressed quickly throughout the year, faster than the coaches may have even anticipated at one point. They entered the tournament ranked second with a record of 16-8. They also won the region by going 8-0.

Brackett recalled quality wins, including against top 5A Salem Hills and 3A North Sanpete. And, 13 of the total 18 wins this year were by margins of 10 or more.

“By April they pretty much got to where I thought they’d be by the end of the season,” he said. “I told them that they are a good team, that they can be right back in next year if they put some time in and get some practice in.”

Of course, they will have to do it under a new coach. But Brackett said after many players progressed with valuable experience this year, they are poised to be a threat to opposing teams again.

“Whoever takes over coaching has a great team to do it with,” he said.

Only one senior, Sara Blackham, will graduate this year. Brackett expressed gratitude to her personally for her high level of play and competitiveness this season after skipping last year, when a season did not take place anyway.

 “I thank her for  coming out and being a leader. She really stepped up the last games of the season, and I just told her thanks for stepping up and playing hard,” he said.

In the UHSAA 2A state softball championship game, Enterprise defeated Beaver, 5-2.