After Three Wins in St. George, Utah Softball Sets Sight West

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Jibon ASM Asib

University of Utah Softball team player and freshman Mariah Lopez (8) pitches during an NCAA dual meet against Stanford University at the Dumke Family Softball Stadium in Salt Lake City on 27 March 2021 (Photo by Abu Asib | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer

 

The University of Utah softball team claimed its first Pac-12 win of the season on Friday afternoon at Dumke Family Softball Stadium in what was their best all around performance of the season.

Three mid-week non-conference games, which were makeups for the missed Dixie State Tournament, gave the Utes a reprieve from Pac-12 play and a great opportunity to reset after playing 14 of 16 games against conference opponents, including 13 losses. A deep breath and some fun in the St. George sun might be just what the doctor ordered before they head west to take on the Cal Golden Bears.

Tuesday

Facing the Dixie State Trailblazers (15-17) on their home field provided an excellent challenge for the Utes. Playing away from home for the first time since March 21, Utah got on the board early thanks to heads up base running from Haley Denning and Julia Noskin. Denning scored on an infield single and a passed ball allowed Noskin to score from third later in the inning, giving Utah a 2-0 lead.

The two teams would trade runs until Utah, holding a 3-2 lead in the fourth, tacked on two more as Ali Belarde picked up the first two RBI of her career on a single down the right-field line scoring Denning and Alyssa Palacios.

Dixie cut the Ute lead to one with consecutive one-run innings in the fifth and sixth. In the seventh, pinch-hitting for Julia Scardina, Eli Espinosa smacked a two-run single to right that scored Barrera and Belarde.

Utah would break out of an offensive slump as they scored seven runs for just the second time in the previous seventeen ball games. Six players would account for the nine Utah hits, including Denning’s 3-4 and Noskin’s 2-4.

Sydney Sandez (7-3) threw well for the Utes as she went 5.2 innings and only allowed six hits. Mariah Lopez came on in relief of Sandez, picking up her first save in 1.1 innings pitched while not allowing a hit. Carissa Burgess (10-9) got the loss for Dixie State.

Wednesday

Game 1

Taking on Dixie State for the second time in as many days, the Utes would find the road a little easier on Wednesday. An 11-3 run-rule shortened game gave Utah their first back-to-back wins since March 23.

The power showed up in a big way for Utah as Jordyn Gasper (2) hit a solo shot to start the scoring, Halle Morris (4) crushed a grand slam to centerfield and AJ Militello (2)  got in on the fun with a 3-run job of her own in a five-run Utah sixth inning to put the game away.

Mariah Lopez (3-8) started and got the win for Utah. She allowed three hits across two innings of work. Mary Beth Feldman came on in relief of Lopez in the third and threw three innings of six-hit ball, gaining valuable experience in the process. Morris, continuing to show her versatility on an inning by inning basis, threw the final frame for the Utes to nail down the win. Ashton Bauerle (4-6)) took the loss for Dixie State.

Game 2

The second game of the day did not start off as Utah had intended after they fell into an early 3-0 hole when Brooke Brown launched a 3-run home run in the top of the first. Starting for the second time today, Mariah Lopez (4-8) would not get into any more trouble as those would be the only three runs she would allow in five innings pitched in the nightcap.

At the plate, Utah was led by Julia Noskin who went 2-3, scored two runs and had two RBI. The Utes scored runs in four consecutive innings to build a 7-3 lead, before Halle Morris gave up two runs before she could close the book on another Ute victory.

 Cal Golden Bears 13-11, 1-5 in Pac-12

The Bears have struggled in early Pac-12 play this season, sitting 8th in the conference, just ahead of Utah in 9th. Most recently, the Bears beat St. Mary’s 6-1 on Tuesday afternoon. A bounce back from four consecutive losses to the Washington Huskies this past weekend.

As a team, Cal is at or near the bottom of most offensive metrics in the Pac-12. Last in batting average (.271), runs scored (103), hits (175) and extra-base hits 44. Unlike the Utes previous conference opponents, Cal doesn’t have the depth of lineup that teams like Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State have. Led by Lauren Espalin (.373) and Makena Smith (.352), the Bears rely on stringing together baserunners to score.

In the circle, Cal leans on three primary pitchers. Chloe Romero (6-1) leads the team with a 2.13 ERA in 46 innings pitched. Haylei Archer (6-3) leads the Bears in starts and innings pitched at 53. Sona Halajian (1-7) has started seven games and carries a 4.14ERA.

Keys to the Game

Swing the stick: Swing the bat early and put Cal behind the 8-ball. Cal has struggled to get the extra-base hit and score runs in Pac-12 play. Pounce early and build a lead in the early innings, then ride your pitching to a victory.

Pitch to contact: Cal doesn’t provide the lineup problems the Utes have seen recently. No opponent can be overlooked, but the Utes will be best served by staying in the strike zone, pitching to contact and letting their defense do the heavy lifting. 

Flash the leather: Utah is last in the Pac-12 with 40 fielding errors. They must find a way to play sound, fundamental softball that gives their pitchers a chance at success. Make the easy plays and keep the tough ones in front of you.

From the Clubhouse

Haley Denning continues to set the table at the top of the Utah batting order. Denning went 3-4 on Tuesday, increasing her team leading multi-hit games total to 12, including five 3+ hit games.

Alyssa Barrera needs 21 hits to reach 245 and crack into the Utah all-time top-5. If Barrera can average just over 1.5 hits/game in the final 27 games, she would pass Hannah Flippen
(264) for first in Utah softball history.

Julia Noskin and Alyssa Barrera each carry five-game hitting streaks into the series at Cal. Madi Jacobus has the previous best hitting streak for the Utes this season at 14 games.

 

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