Utah Softball Punctuate Beautiful Saturday with Walk-off Win

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University of Utah Softball team player and sophomore Julia Scardina (28) bats 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 sun is shining and the air is crisp but not quite cold. Major League Baseball is set to start their playoffs while the NFL moves into the second quarter of their schedules. NBA and NHL teams are reporting to training camp and beginning their preseason slate. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. 

As if these examples aren’t enough to fill a sports-obsessed fan’s agenda, the University of Utah women’s softball program, led by head coach Amy Hogue in her 22nd year with the Utah program, began their fall ball schedule Sept. 23.

Hogue’s team dominated competition from outside the Pac-12 last season, finishing with an 18-2 record against non-conference teams.

Non-conference is exactly what the Utes will be facing over the next three weeks with eight games, two each against Utah Valley University, Boise State and Dixie State along with single games against Weber State and Salt Lake Community College as well as two intrasquad Red-White scrimmages.

The Utes return largely the same team from last season after three seniors graduated. Two transfers in Shi Smith and Julia Jimenez also joined the Utes.

Smith, a graduate transfer from Seattle University, is an experienced pitcher with four years of WAC play under her belt. She enters the Utah program as their most experienced collegiate pitcher with 111 appearances and 50 starts.

Jimenez joins Utah via the University of Michigan where she started 69 games for the Wolverines. Jimenez has shown defensive versatility, starting games at both second and third base, and a good bat by hitting .282 and slugging .421.

The Utes also added two freshmen out of California in right-handed pitcher Hailey Harris and catcher Kendall Lundberg. Harris was a three-sport athlete during her time at Downey High School and played with the USA Athletics’ 18u Gold team.

A two-way player, Harris threw 62 innings in her senior season, finishing with 101 strikeouts and a 0.79 ERA. She also led Downey in batting average (.455), OBP (.520) and RBI (23).

Lundberg batted .452 and was named first-team All-CIF Southern Section and first-team All-Moore League, in addition to Lakewood co-MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and 562 All-City Player of the Year during her senior season at Lakewood High School.

Boise State

Halle Morris started in the circle for Utah and struggled with command early in the first. After walking the leadoff hitter, Morris surrendered an infield single followed by an RBI single and a sac-fly to right, putting the Broncos in front 2-0. 

Utah didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard themselves. After Haley Denning reached on an infield single to leadoff the bottom half of the first, she stole second, advanced to third on an Elessa Bonstrom groundout before scoring when Morris singled to center.

In what may have been the defensive play of the game in the top of the third inning, freshman pitcher Hailey Harris, with one out and runners on first and second base, induced a ground ball to third that was backhanded by Jimenez. Jimenez stepped on the bag and fired a howitzer across the diamond to finish the 5-3 double play.

Trailing 2-1 in the latter half of the third inning, the Utes used a pair of infield singles from Denning and Bonstrom to even the score. After Denning reached on her second infield single of the game, she again stole second before scoring on a slow bouncer to third that Bonstrom just beat out at first.

In the fifth, Destiny Quiles led off with a single to center and was replaced by pinch-runner Shelbi Ortiz. Ortiz advanced to third when Jimenez collected her second base hit of the game, a sharp liner past a diving third baseman that resulted in the first extra base hit for either team.

With runners at second and third, Jordyn Gasper lifted a fly ball to shallow left that was deep enough for Ortiz to tag-up and score from third, giving the Utes a 3-2 lead.

A two-out double off the left center field wall scored another Bronco run in the fifth, tying the game at 3. It was the first run allowed by Harris in 3 ⅔ innings of work as she pitched around five base hits and a HBP. Harris also benefited from some spectacular Ute defense behind her. Sydney Sandez came on in relief of Harris to finish the fifth.

Boise State took advantage of the first error of the ball game when the leadoff hitter reached base via a fielding error from Utah shortstop Denning. A triple would bring that runner all the way around from first to give the Broncos a 4-3 lead.

With their backs against the wall trailing 4-3 in the seventh, Denning slapped a single over a lunging Bronco shortstop for her third base hit. Shortly after, Denning advanced to second with her third stolen base of the day. A Madi Jacobus single to centerfield brought Denning around and tied the score at 4 and set the stage for drama.

With runners on first and second with one out, Morris got a pitch to hit and didn’t waste it, sending a line drive single into right-center field that scored Ortiz from second, giving the Utes a walk-off 5-4 win.

Back on the Diamond

The Utes will be back on the field for a double header next Saturday afternoon at Dumke Family Softball Stadium. The first game will see the Dixie State Trailblazers traveling north to face the Utes at 12:30 p.m. MDT. The Utes went 2-0 against Dixie last season. Game two will feature the Weber State Wildcats who lost all three matchups against Utah last year.

 

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