Softball: Utes’ never-die attitude starting to produce wins

It was an incredibly unlikely scenario. The chances of getting out of the jam were not high, yet the Utah softball team never doubted.

“We knew we could do it,” third baseman Kristen Stewart said.

Utah found itself in a pressure-filled situation during the final game of the Mary Nutter Classic last weekend, going to extra inning versus Cal Poly.

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After failing to score in the top of the eighth inning, the Utes were still tied 1-1. Cal Poly started the bottom half of the inning with a runner on second base in accordance to the international tiebreaker rule and on an 0-2 count, Cal Poly’s first batter got a base hit and reached first.

The runner on second advanced to third on the play, and as a result, was just one base away from scoring.

So the situation stood as follows – runners on first and third, no outs, and Cal Poly needing just one run to win. Not an easy hole to dig out of at all.

“There was a little bit of pressure with the runner on third,” second baseman Hannah Flippen said.

There typically isn’t a great chance of getting out of this kind of situation in softball without losing the game, but the Utes must never have heard of those situations. Their confidence that they could get out of the inning almost seemed impractical.

“We never felt like the game was out of our hands,” captain Kate Dickman said. “We always knew we were going to win that game.”

Flippen shared those sentiments.

“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind,” Flippen said of the game.

Despite the situation that Stewart described by saying “all odds were stacked against us,” there was still no doubt in the players they would get out of the inning.

Because of this belief, the madness that soon ensued was not a surprise for the team, but it sure was a spectacle for everyone else who was following the game.

Pitcher Miranda Viramontes got the pitch call from the coaches and prepared to deliver. What resulted, is a play that the team will be talking about for the rest of the season.

The Cal Poly batter hit a high ground ball down the third-base line that was on a crash course for the backhanded glove of Stewart. Also by that outstretched glove however, was the Cal Poly runner on third.

Reacting to the hit, the runner just barely took a step off the bag, and then the unthinkable happened.

“I was thinking in my head that I just had to turn and tag the girl,” Stewart said.

Stewart did just that. She tagged out the runner to keep her from scoring, but the play wasn’t done there. She then immediately turned towards second base and fired the ball to Hannah Flippen who stood on the bag to convert the force out at second base – a double play.

“At first, I wasn’t even thinking of throwing to second,” Stewart said. “I just turned and tagged the girl and then saw Hannah there on second.”

In the blink of an eye, the Utes went from an improbable situation to having two outs and just one runner on first.

“Everyone was just cheering and yelling and Coach, who usually doesn’t show that much emotion, even got in on it,” Stewart said. “It was just crazy, it literally brought chills to my body.”

Head coach Amy Hogue, though sometimes short on emotion, was not short on the praise she had for the play Stewart made.

“It wasn’t a fluke thing for her, she knew she was going to get that ball,” Hogue said. “These kids are all believers and the ball came to one of our biggest believers in Stewart.”

It wasn’t just by chance that the play developed the way it did, as Utah was trying to force a ground ball down the third base line. Utah coaches made the correct call and Viramontes executed that pitch call exceptionally.

“Our coaches are so good at calling pitches, the play just could not have gone more perfectly,” Flippen said.

Viramontes followed up the big-time play with a strikeout to end the inning. Utah would go on to win the game 3-1 in the next inning.

In what looked like an inevitable loss, the Utes showed their clutch factor by making one of the best situational plays that may happen all season.

“I don’t wish scenarios like that to happen. But now that I know the ending, those kinds of situations are so good for us as a team,” Hogue said.

As for the athlete that made the play, she didn’t hesitate when asked where this play ranks for her all time.

“That was my best play. It was just so heads up,” Stewart said.

Being able to make the physical play in a pressure-filled situation was big, but it was the timeliness and mental awareness that really made it special. When the prospect of a win for the Utes looked nearly impossible, they pulled together and showed their confidence, trust and belief in each other’s abilities. They truly never doubted.

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