Softball: Schedule thick with ranked opponents (3/14)

By Jason Peterson

Softball is the name of the game in San Diego today as the Utes prepare to take on two nationally ranked clubs, a recently ranked squad and a previously ranked rival that’s already beaten them once this season.

Suffice it to say, the 12-10 Utes have their work carved out for them.

But confidence is still high as the club is riding a two-game winning streak after holding the fort against Southern Utah in a double-header on Tuesday afternoon. Utah took its first two home games of the season, blanking the Thunderbirds 8-0 and 4-0.

Such confidence is what prompted ace pitcher Ashley Smuda to scoff when she first heard about this weekend’s competition.

“Bring them on,” Smuda said shortly after tossing a no-hitter against SUU. “In softball, anyone can beat anyone else on any given day.”

To prove her point, Smuda cited an example during last week’s Diamond Devil Invitational in Tempe, Ariz., when unranked UC Davis played No. 1 Arizona State.

“UC Davis went up 5-0 against the No. 1 team in the country,” Smuda said. “And even though they eventually lost, that shows you anything can happen.”

Smuda isn’t sure whether she’ll toss another no-hitter today when the Utes open up the San Diego Classic against No. 5 Texas A&M (25-4). In fact, she hardly notices such “trivial” things.

“I don’t usually plan on having a no-hitter — I just go into the game and play my best,” Smuda said. “Whatever happens, happens.”

One thing Smuda is sure of is that Utah can hang with anybody, whether head coach Amy Hogue goes with her or freshman pitcher Brittany Parker on the mound.

“Brittany is playing unbelievable for us,” Smuda said. “She had that game against (No. 22) Texas, and she gets a one-hitter (on Tuesday against SUU).”

What’s more, Smuda has been impressed with the freshman’s poise in big games.

“I started off my career on the road at Arizona, so I freaked out, of course,” the sophomore said. “But Brittany doesn’t seem nervous at all.”

The Utes are hoping both of their star pitchers keep the ice in their veins against Aggie batters, led by All-American Amanda Scarborough and her .447 batting average.

To thicken the plot, the game against Texas A&M holds personal significance for Hogue.

“Their coach was my first base coach when I was playing here at the U,” Hogue said with a smile. “It could get a little awkward, but I think it’ll be fun.”

The Utes’ other game today is a rematch against San Diego (9-15). The Toreros beat Utah last weekend, 8-4, in Arizona.

On Saturday, Utah will try its hand against previously ranked Cal State Fullerton (12-10) and No. 25 ranked Long Beach State (15-8).

The Utes will wrap up the five-game weekend against 13-15 New Mexico State, which features Stephanie Herrera and her .528 batting average on 38 hits.

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