It was a long season for the University of Utah softball team, not only with preseason and regular season games but also with competing in the postseason. The Utes set goals early on before their season began, and now that it has come to an end, they feel that it was one for the books.
“I think the team had a great year,” said outfielder Alyssa Barrera. “We accomplished a lot of our goals. We were able to cross almost everything off our list. I think we made a big contribution on and off the field.”
Starting the year in February, preseason for the Utes seemed to be going well, as they jumped out to an early 11 game win streak, but that came to an end during the Mary Nutter Classic. The Utes lost their first preseason game to San Diego State before falling to Cal State Fullerton the next day.
While the Utes only lost four out of 22 games before they started their Pac-12 play, Barrera thinks dropping those four preseason games affected their season.
“I think maybe in some of the preseason games, we fell short,” Barrera said. “I think that if our focus would have been a little bit stronger as a whole, winning those games that we lost in the beginning of the year would have helped us be in a better position in postseason.”
The Utes started their Pac-12 season on a high note when they swept No. 10 UCLA in Los Angeles, but they couldn’t keep the momentum going as they dropped their next series against No. 3 Oregon. Utah fell in both games of a doubleheader, while game three ended up being canceled due to weather. Utah then went on the road where it swept Stanford before returning home to win the series against No. 21 Cal, despite game three not being played because of weather conditions.
The one game during the Utes conference play that will forever be their greatest, according to infielder Breonna Castaneda, was when Arizona visited the Dumke Family Softball Stadium. Utah dropped the first game but took game one and two to clinch the series and make program history.
“The Arizona series when we beat them when they were the No. 1 team was the best,” Castaneda said. “That was the first time it had been done in the team history to beat the No. 1 team.”
The Utes went on to win one more regular season conference series to No. 23 Arizona State before dropping two of three games to Oregon State and being swept by No. 8 Washington.
“Certain times, I think throughout the season, we would be a little bit off rhyme with pitching or offensively,” said catcher Bella Secaira. “But overall, I truly don’t think we were struggling to a point of concern. I think the game just didn’t fall our way sometimes and you really can’t prepare for that.”
The Utes qualified for the NCAA Regionals, and they made history again when they hosted the program’s first regional game. Utah first faced Fordham in the tournament where it shut down the Athletics 10-0, allowing them to move on to play in-state rival No. 21 BYU.
During the regular season, the Utes dropped the contest against the Cougars and this time around they saw this matchup as an opportunity for revenge. Utah came away with a 3-2 victory, but it wouldn’t be the last time they would see the Cougars that weekend.
After BYU managed to win its next game, it moved on to play Utah in the regional final. The Utes put up runs in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth innings as they kept the Cougars from scoring any runs of their own. The game ended after the sixth inning, 14-0.
“I think playing against BYU was probably the most exciting during our regionals,” Barrera said. “It being the first time hosting, which was a big deal, seeing the amount of fans that we had, and just playing our rival, winning on a walk-off and beating them by a tremendous amount of runs was an awesome feeling just being a part of that.”
With the regional win, the Utes advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals for the second time in their history. Utah faced No. 6 Washington with the winner moving on to the Women’s College World Series. Utah fell 10-4 in game one but rallied back the following day to win 9-8 to force a game three. The Utes came up short as they lost by a score of 2-1, bringing their season to an end.
Although it was a goal the Utes had set, to make the final eight and play at the world series, Secaira is proud of how this season turned out, and she looks at it as a glass half full rather than half empty scenario.
“Of course we all wanted to win, but it’s not how it happened,” Secaira said. “Would I change it? Probably not. We played our guts out on the last game and that’s awesome. I’m just super grateful for what this game has taught me.”