No. 25 Utah softball won all of its four games at the NCAA Regional in Lexington, Kentucky, beating Illinois and Kentucky to advance to the Super Regional against Florida State.
“The last time we went this far they didn’t have Super Regionals, so this is a first time for the Utes and these girls prepared to do it and they got it done. I’m proud of them,” Utah head coach Amy Hogue said.
Utah will be playing in the field of 16 for its first trip to the College World Series since 1994, when Hogue led the Utes as a player, when they face Florida State in a best-of-three series in Tallahassee.
The Utes started their conquest of Lexington on Friday with a 1-0 victory over Illinois. On offense, Utah struggled, but thanks to Miranda Viramontes, only needed one run to win the ballgame. The winning run came in the third inning, when Anissa Urtez singled to left field, bringing home Kay Kay Fronda from second. Viramontes pitched a masterpiece, throwing six and two-thirds innings and only allowing three hits and one walk.
Viramontes did not allow a hit until the fourth inning. One out away from a complete game shutout, with the bases loaded, Hogue pulled Viramontes and put in Katie Donovan, who fanned Kylie Johnson for the final out.
On a rainy Saturday afternoon, the Utes faced the No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats defending their home field. Utah and Kentucky had their first-ever meeting this season in Arizona, where the Wildcats edged the Utes on a game-ending wild pitch by Donovan.
Donovan redeemed herself on Saturday, blanking Kentucky while only allowing four hits. The sophomore sensation, who was named to the All-Pac-12 first team, picked up her 19th win of the season in the victory. Viramontes came in to record the final out with runners on first and second.
On the offensive side, Urtez and Hannah Flippen helped lead Utah to the win. The Utes started off with a bang when Urtez launched a two run homer, her fourth of the season, to give Utah a 2-0 lead. Both teams were held scoreless through the sixth inning, as the contest was locked in a pitcher’s duel. In the top of the seventh – after Delilah Pacheco doubled, then advanced to third on an error – Flippen laid down a sacrifice bunt to give Utah a 3-0 win. The win marked the first time that a Utah softball team has won two games at an NCAA Regional.
On Sunday, Kentucky beat the Utes 4-0 to force a winner-take-all game later in the day. Hogue tapped Viramontes to pitch, but she couldn’t replicate Saturday’s performance in the circle. The Wildcats scored all three of their runs in the third inning via an error, a Nikki Sagermann RBI single and an Abbey Cheek two-run home run.
Later that night, the Utes and Wildcats played for a trip to the Super Regionals. Donovan pitched six and two-thirds innings, only allowing two runs to secure the win for the Utes.
“Knowing that I could throw a strike and they could hit it and our defense could pick it up gives us a lot of confidence going forward,” Donovan said. “That allows me to throw so many different pitches and I know that no matter where they hit it, I have eight players behind me that are going to do everything they can to make a play.”
Viramontes came in with two outs in the seventh, bases full, but struck out the last Kentucky batter to send the Utes to the Supers.
On the offensive side, Flippen broke the scoreless tie with a single to left, bringing home Delilah Pacheco, then Urtez hit a two-run single to put the Utes up 3-0. Kentucky’s Jenny Schaper hit a bomb in the fifth, cutting the Utah lead to 3-1. The Utes responded in the sixth inning with a RBI sacrifice bunt by Heather Bowen, who scored Hailey Hilburn.
“The last nine years have been a grind. Each year though, we’ve gotten better,” Hogue said. “The next step, the next page, was Supers. And so we had a plan to get there and that’s what we talked about and that’s what we worked.”
First game is Friday at 5:00 p.m. ET.