Utah Softball: Learning to Play Together

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The Ute’s softball team defended the diamond in a three game series against UCLA. Sophomore Alyssa Barrera lays down a bunt for the Utes.(Photo by: Justin Prather | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer

 

It rained and (gasps) even snowed in Salt Lake last weekend; far from the sunshine and warmth associated with softball. Fortunately for University of Utah head softball coach Amy Hogue’s team, Phoenix provided a much better backdrop for six games to begin the 2021 Utah softball season.

The Utes began play last Thursday against Grand Canyon, winning 6-5, before moving on to the Kajikawa Classic, hosted by Arizona State. A full weekend of games was important to Head Coach Amy Hogue as she looks to build a team, rather than a group of individuals.

“The piece that’s been difficult is the team piece. We’ve had a hard time building that aspect because of our limitations.” Hogue continued, “Missing out on team retreats, team meals & movie nights. We don’t do any of that now.”

The first weekend on the field as a team provided a good learning experience for everyone. Hogue spoke of a slow offensive start to the tournament that gave the pitching and defense a chance to shine before the bats settled in later.

“I think we started a little nervous in the box. Thankfully, our pitching and defense wasn’t and we were able to win a low scoring game,” she said.

A roster short on experience but loaded with underclass talent, Hogue will no doubt have to rely on youth for the Utes to find success this season. Nine upperclassmen, five juniors and four seniors will be tasked with leading eight freshman & seven sophomores as the Utes look to a daunting Pac-12 conference schedule.

One thing Hogue is looking forward to is increased depth in the pitching staff. Carrying five pitchers instead of the usual four gives Hogue more versatility as she pulls the strings on the season.

“I think the depth in our pitching is just fantastic. We upped our series’ to four games instead of three this year, and having the added pitching depth has helped.” Proving Hogue’s point, Utes starters would allow only two runs over the first four games of the season.

Offensively, the Utes expect to have a deeper bench with more pinch-running and pinch-hitting options than in previous seasons. “Our depth in bringing people off of the bench is something new to us. We’re a little better and deeper than last year,” she said. 

Asked about taking on a leadership role along with co-captains Julia Noskin and Alyssa Palacios, senior Alyssa Barrera spoke of commitment.

“I’m really happy to be part of a team where we’re all committed to do what it takes to get back on the field and win some games,” Barrera said. 

Three of the top four teams in the NCAA 2021 preseason Top-25 rankings reside in the conference. UCLA (1), Washington (2) and Arizona (4) lead the way, with Oregon (10) rounding out the top-10. Arizona State sits at 16, while Utah, Stanford and Oregon State all received votes but not enough to make the list. Suffice to say, it’s an uphill climb for any team looking to win a Pac-12 conference crown.

“All of us know that we signed up to play in the Pac-12. We know it’s the most competitive conference, I think in the country,” Barrera said. “We know there’s going to be tough competition, but that’s what we signed up for.”

Three more weeks before conference play begins and the team remains focused on the here and now. Becoming a cohesive unit will be the goal for a young Utes team as they travel to Las Vegas this weekend for five games in the UNLV Desert Classic. 

Hogue wonders, “We’re talented and we’re deep. The real question is, can we learn to play together?”

The Utes will have ample opportunity to grow and become the team Barrera thinks they can be, “We want it to be known that we’re not the underdogs anymore. We have a lot to bring on the field and show the world.”

First pitch will be Friday, February 19 at 11 a.m. as the Utes face in-state rival Weber State (2-3) at Eller Media Stadium in Las Vegas. Utah will also face California Baptist (3-1) and UNLV (4-1).

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