ST. GEORGE — It may have taken a year longer than expected, but Crimson Cliffs softball is a contender as the Region 9 softball season enters its second half.
The Mustangs didn’t see a rebuilding plan take longer than they’d hoped. They didn’t have injury setbacks. Instead, a canceled season kept the new school from proving its worth in its first campaign. Now, with spring sports back on the schedule, Crimson is sitting solid in second place in the regional standings as crunch time begins with a 6-1 record.
First-place Snow Canyon has played a step or two above everyone else in Southern Utah, but Crimson Cliffs is just one game behind.
After a 10-0 loss to fellow contender Canyon View to open the regional season, Crimson Cliffs hasn’t lost. Hurricane came close on April 8 when the Mustangs got away with a 3-2 win. Two days prior, Crimson Cliffs won 21-11. Canyon View got within three but still gave up 14 runs on March 25.
Since their game one loss, Crimson Cliffs has a run differential of plus-44. Aside from the Hurricane game, they’ve bottomed out at 11 runs. The Mustangs aren’t waiting to build a program from the ground up; they already have the structure to compete.
The scary part for other Region 9 teams is that, at least in the eyes of head coach Kourtnie Judd, the new young team hasn’t fully meshed yet.
“We haven’t found our best game yet,” Judd said. “We haven’t put a complete game together yet. We’re still trying to put the puzzle pieces together. This is still a brand new team, a brand new program. It’s one day where our bats are hot, the next day they’re not. One day our defense is great, the next day our defense is shaky.”
Judd felt that their most recent win over Dixie was closer than it needed to be. They won that game by five.
As of publication of this article, Crimson is second in the league with 79 runs scored and third with 45 runs allowed, one behind Canyon View.
They are second in ERA and on-base percentage and third in strikeouts pitched. Kya Burningham, one of the team’s just two seniors, is second in the league with a .700 batting average in league play. Sophomore McKenna Cahoon, working primarily in a relief role, is second in the league with a 1.40 ERA in support of Malia Davis, who ranks sixth in the league with a 6.50. It should be noted that Canyon View’s individual statistics are not listed on the MaxPreps leaderboards.
They don’t have the sluggers that Snow Canyon has. Crimson is tied for fifth in the league in homers and sit in fourth in slugging. Instead, they play a more old-school, less three-true-outcomes based game. They slap the ball into the gaps. They’ll lay down bunts.
The Mustangs also lead with 32 stolen bases, nearly double-digits more than any team in Region 9 play.
“We know producing runs comes with aggressive base running,” Judd said. “We know that we have to manufacture runs every possible way and every possible chance we get.”
They’ve created and converted plenty of those chances. Against Hurricane, their three-run inning that turned out to be the difference in the game saw two stolen bases, allowing both runners to score on an eventual Tigers error.
Even with all the success, Judd thinks the team has more in the tank. After all, they play for a two-year-old school and are in the midst of their first full season. The fact that they’ve strung together wins without playing a “complete game” shows they’re good. But Judd says they aren’t great. Yet.
“Good teams find a way to win,” Judd said. “We keep telling the girls that. We are not a great team yet. We keep going over the same things in practice: that we are good and we are mediocre, but we are not great yet.”
They will get their shot at a great team in two weeks when they face Snow Canyon. More often than not, the Warriors lead every statistical category, including the ones Crimson Cliffs comes in second.
On Tuesday against Canyon View, Snow Canyon scraped by with a 4-2 victory, by far their closest call in Region 9 so far. They still managed to slug four homers. Every other regional game the Warriors have played this season has ended with a Snow Canyon win by at least eight runs.
Judd doesn’t mince words. She believes her Mustangs can be right there with the Warriors. She told St. George News they just have to put the puzzle pieces together over the next week, with a rematch against Dixie on Friday before two games with Cedar next week.
“Talk of the town is we’re neck and neck,” Judd said. “They have some home run hitters that we’re very aware of. They swing it and they hit it out. We swing for base hits, so that’s a little bit of a difference for us vs. them. Their pitching is solid, our pitching is pretty close. We’re pretty solid pitching wise when we spin it, and when we hit our spots, we’re good.”
That series, played on April 27 at Snow Canyon and April 30 in Washington, could see the winner of Region 9 decided. Until then, it’s a race for Crimson Cliffs to finish the jigsaw and field their best team.
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