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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Softball Team Goes Two and Out at NCAAs

By Lance Gamero

The U softball season was a roller coaster ride in anybody’s view. After starting the season by going 8-26, the Utes bounced back in Mountain West Conference play, winning the conference tournament and making a run into the NCAA Tournament.

That’s where the ride ended, though.

The Utes were ousted in two games from the NCAA Tournament in regional play, losing to Oklahoma 6-0, and Army 2-0.

In game one of the tournament, the Utes and Sooners found themselves scoreless after three innings. A throwing error by pitcher Jennifer Pursell gave the Sooners a 1-0 lead.

Two controversial calls by the home plate umpire allowed the Sooners three more runs. The first was a ball call on what U coach Mona Stevens said was a sure strike on a 3-2 count with two runners on base and 2 outs.

The next was a catcher interference call on a flyout that gave the Sooners another run. A single gave Oklahoma two more runs and the damage was done.

“We played them very well,” Stevens said. “They played hard and the game was so well fought.”

Pursell took the loss on the rubber, but threw “very well,” according to Stevens.

The Utes ended up losing to Oklahoma for the third time this season by a 6-0 final. The first two losses to the Sooners came in February and March, with respective scores of 8-1 and 8-0.

The Utes then had just two-and-one-half hours to prepare for the next game against the United States Military Academy. They had just enough time to grab a sandwich and try to get away from the hot Oklahoma sun. There wasn’t even enough time for the Utes to go back to their hotel, so a tree provided them the shade they needed.

Against Army, the Utes did not play to their potential. They ended up losing to the Black Knights 2-0 and were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.

“We were a much better team, but we just didn’t play up to par,” Stevens said.

All Army needed was two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to sneak away with the win.

Utah’s defense kept both games close, but the Utes were not able to get any runs on the board in either, as the bats once again were held silent, to the befuddlement of Stevens.

“We didn’t swing the bats well the whole tournament,” Stevens said. “[But] our defense really improved overall. Our defense really held.”

The Utes advanced to the NCAA Tournament by winning the MWC Tournament at Gail Miller Field in Provo. In their first game against UNLV, Utah easily defeated the Rebels 8-0, utilizing the eight-run mercy rule. The Utes used a five-run second inning to jump all over UNLV and they never looked back.

In game two, the Utes were shell-shocked as Colorado State upset the U 3-1. Despite Melissa Stahnke’s sixth-inning home run? that not only gave the lead to the Utes at 1-0 but also enabled Stahnke to surpass Cyndee Bennett’s Utah home-run record with 38?the Utes allowed three runs in the bottom of the sixth, all on a triple by Maren Christensen.

The Utes played the Rams the next day in the semi-final and got their revenge, defeating Colorado State 4-2. Stahnke, Christa Pfeninger and Molly McLean all knocked in runs to give the Utes their 4 runs and a match-up with San Diego State for the title.

The Utes easily handled SDSU, downing the Aztecs 8-1. Pursell threw well for the Utes and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Stevens talked of how Pursell had fought through a lot of adversity this year to end up where she did.

Stahnke and Niki Hayhurst homered for the U against SDSU. Stahnke hit her 16th of the year and Hayhurst her seventh.

“No one wanted to leave the field,” Stevens said. “That was our dream and our team goal. They were all so selfless and excited. It was all about team and group. Not only was it the most rewarding moment of the year, but also of my coaching career.”

It was especially significant for the Utes, who battled with a very tough start and fought through it all to make the NCAA Tournament.

Stevens wished to acknowledge the support from the community.

“It was all piece of the puzzle,” she said. “The team felt supported. It really made a difference.”

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