Utah Softball Looks to Get Hot in the Desert


Jack Gambassi

Junior outfielder, Jordyn Gasper (#11), during the Utes’ game against the ASU Sun Devils on April 2, 2021 at the Dumke Family Softball Stadium on campus. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer


Four-A player is a term in baseball reserved for those that are too good for the minor leagues, but can’t quite find the same success against top level Major League talent. Maybe it’s a hole in their swing or a tipping of their pitch, but they struggle to replicate the minor league numbers once they reach the big leagues. The best parallel for the 2021 University of Utah softball team might be that Four-A player. They are good, nay dominant against lesser competition, but for a variety of reasons, they struggle against top-tier Pac-12 competition.

This season, the Utes are 15-9 outside of the Pac-12. Averaging more than six runs per game while limiting the opposition to less than four, Utah’s offense has looked dominant at times and the pitching staff has shown the ability to shut down lineups. But when facing Pac-12 competition, the Utes have compiled a 2-10 record. Utah’s pitching staff has been knocked around in these games, allowing almost six runs per game, and the offense has struggled, scoring just north of two. 

With another extended scheduling break, this time due to inclement weather in the Salt Lake area, the Utes had a nine-day break to regroup and cure what has ailed them this year. 


Playing Weber State for the second time this season, Utah saw their bats come out of hibernation in a 12-4 run-rule-shortened win at Wildcat Softball Field in Ogden. 

Opening up a big lead in the first inning, Utah used a Haley Denning leadoff single and stolen base to score on a Madi Jacobus groundout. Halle Morris picked up a two-RBI single, her first of three base hits on the day, to give the Utes a 3-0 lead.

Weber State cut into the Utah lead when they scored two in the second inning, but they would get no closer as Utah pitchers Sydney Sandez (8-4) and Mariah Lopez combined to scatter nine hits while allowing only four Wildcat runs. 

The fourth inning provided the real Ute fireworks as six Utah players would cross the dish. Utah batted around in the inning, eventually sending 11 batters to the plate. Morris picked up right where she left off in the first by leading off the inning with a double to center before she was cut down at the plate on a Katie Faulk fielder’s choice. Eight straight Utes reached base in the inning before Jacobus became the first out at the plate in the frame. Morris capped the scoring outburst with her second two-RBI hit of the day. 

Ellessa Bonstrom hammered her team-leading 11th home run of the season, the second homer in as many games and third in four for Bonstrom. Denning continues to be a terror for opponents at the plate and on the basepaths as she picked up her 49th and 50th base hits of the year, good for second in the Pac-12. She also stole two bases to increase her conference lead to 26.


Sports are great because they allow us the opportunity to feel the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows, sometimes within just a few minutes of each other. Playing against a bitter rival like BYU only enhances those emotions.

The Utes fell into an early hole in Provo, surrendering a five-run second inning. Utah remained scoreless until the fifth inning when Destiny Quiles launched the first home run of her career, scoring Jordyn Gasper and cutting the BYU lead to 5-2.

The Utes mounted another rally in the sixth, loading the bases before Julia Scardina grounded out to end the threat, stranding all three runners. Utah loaded the bases once again in the seventh with nobody out. Bonstrom continued her power streak when she sent a ball over the center field fence for a grand slam, giving Utah a 6-5 lead. Utah would squander an Alyssa Barrera double and head to the home half of the seventh leading by one.

After erasing a five run deficit, the Utes had all the momentum and Sandez in the circle looking to close out the Cougars. Sandez gave up a leadoff, pinch hit solo homer to Huntyr Ava that tied the ball game. And just as quickly as the Utes had seized momentum, the wind was taken out of their sails when Martha Epenesa hit a walk-off solo homer to left, giving BYU the 7-6 victory.

Sandez (7-5)  took the loss for Utah and Carley Brown (4-2) picked up the win for BYU.

Who’s Next?

No. 10 Arizona 27-8, 6-5 in Pac-12

Facing another Wildcat squad, this time of the University of Arizona variety, gives Utah yet another Pac-12 test. Arizona enters the four-game series after losing three of four to in-state rival Arizona State. Being ranked No. 4 in the Pac-12, the Wildcats will be looking to bounce back.

Arizona brings a balanced attack offensively with six regulars batting over .300, led by Janelle Meoño’s top-of-the-conference mark of .452 and Dejah Mulipola hitting .398. Not just a high contact team, Arizona is second in the Pac-12 with 61 home runs, led by Mulipola’s 13 dingers. 

In the circle, the Wildcats rely heavily on Alyssa Denham (14-5) and her 1.94 ERA. Hanah Bowen (4-1) and their own Mariah Lopez (6-2) will also probably see some time pitching this weekend. 

Arizona is in the top 3 of nearly every major statistical category offensively and pitching-wise in the Pac-12 this season. Couple those numbers with a disappointing previous weekend, and Arizona looks to provide one of the most formidable matchups the Utes have seen this season.

Keys to the Game

Play with a lead: Utah needs to start quickly, put some runs on the board and give their pitching staff the peace of mind that comes when pitching with a lead. 

Steal the game: Utah needs to get on base and use their speed to create difficulty for the Wildcats. Denning and Julia Noskin need to set a tone at the top of the lineup and be aggressive once they get on base.

Limit the damage: Arizona is third in the Pac-12 with 234 runs scored. They will get on base, but Utah pitchers must learn to pitch around base-runners and take away the big inning. 

From the Clubhouse

Denning is second in the Pac-12 with 50 base hits. She also leads the conference with 26 stolen bases.

After a pair of doubles on Wednesday, Barrera needs 17 more base hits to crack into Utah’s top-5 all-time list. With 226 career hits, she needs 39 to break Hannah Flippen’s (264) school record.

With her grand slam on Wednesday, her fourth home run in five games, Bonstrom increased her home run team lead to 12 and now leads the team with 31 RBIs.


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