Utah Softball Delivers Hard-Fought Victory to Advance to Women’s College World Series


The University of Utah women’s softball team takes the field against the SDSU Aztecs on Saturday, May 27, 2023. (Photo by CJ Alexander | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Margot Reynolds and CJ Alexander


The University of Utah women’s softball team has punched its ticket to the Women’s College World Series, marking their first appearance in nearly 30 years. Today’s game against SDSU was a high-stress tiebreaker, but the Utes kept their composure and delivered a decisive 7-2 win with aggressive bats and strong defense.

The game started off with some drama when SDSU’s Bella Espinoza advanced to second on a Utah fielding error. Pitcher Mariah Lopez walked the next batter but followed it up with a strikeout before Cali Decker advanced to first on a fielder’s choice, picking Espinoza off at third. Makena Brocki hit a ground ball to second base that gave Utah an easy third out. The Utah offense struggled to find its rhythm with an Aliya Belarde flyout to left field, an Ellessa Bonstrom groundout to second base and a Julia Jimenez popout to right field, ending the inning 0-0.

The second inning was busy for both teams. SDSU started off with a double from AJ Murphy. Ute Haley Denning caught a foul fly from Alexis Otero to get the first out of the inning, though Murphy advanced to third on the play. Lopez decisively struck out the next batter before a dropped fly ball to left field allowed Murphy to score and put Macey Keester on second. Espinoza grounded out to end the Aztecs’ run. Utah started off strong with a single from Sophie Jacquez, who advanced to second on a sac bunt from Karlie Davison before crossing home on a triple from Abby Dayton to even the score at one all. A single to third from Denning followed by a daring steal put her on second and made her the third Ute in program history to reach 100 steals. A lineout from Kendall Lundberg put the pressure on with two outs, but Shelbi Ortiz stepped up to the plate and sent Dayton and Denning home for two unearned runs after an SDSU fumble. A dropped pitch sent Ortiz to second; Belarde singled to left field to send Ortiz across home plate, advancing to second on the throw herself. Bonstrom fouled out to left field to end the inning with Utah up 4-1.

Returning to the field, Lopez delivered three quick strikeouts to get the Utes back to the plate. Jimenez and Jacquez each flied out to the outfield. With a full count, Davison singled to center field to get on base. Dayton stepped up to the plate looking to repeat her impressive first at-bat, but Davison was tagged out as she tried to steal second after a wild pitch, leaving the score at Utah 4, SDSU 1.

In the top of the fourth, SDSU’s Brocki and Murphy each flied out to left field before Otero fended off a full count for a triple to right field — her first of the season. Otero made it home on a single from Jade Ignacio, pinch hitting for Jeweliana Perez. A foulout to first base ended the run. Utah’s Dayton grounded out to first to start off the offense, and a short ball from Denning gave the Aztecs a quick second out. Lundberg grounded out to the pitcher to make it a short inning, with Utah up 4-2.

The fifth started out with an Espinoza single to left field. Denning caught a fly from Barbara in left field to keep Espinoza on first and get the first out. Jillian Celis flied out to put the pressure on, but the next two batters walked to load the bases. The tension was palpable, but Lopez delivered the strikeout to leave all three runners stranded and keep the Aztecs at bay. Looking to extend the Utah lead, Ortiz singled to right field. Belarde flied out to left field before a single from Bonstrom advanced Ortiz to second. Another SDSU error put Jimenez on base and set Ortiz across home plate to put the Utes up 3. A Jacquez single to left field loaded the bases, but after an SDSU pitcher change, a lineout from Davison gave SDSU a double play, with Bonstrom tagged out on her way back to third.

To start the sixth, Utah retired Lopez, after 101 pitches in the game and 317 pitches for the series. With Sarah Ladd on the mound, Otera flyed out to left field. A single from Taylor Okada, pinch hitting for Ally Deuker, was followed by an attempted double play after a lineout from Keester, but an overthrow allowed Okada to advance to second. Espinoza hit a high ball to left field that was easily caught for a third out. To start the bottom of the sixth, Dayton singled to third base. A bunt from Denning pushed Dayton to second and a sac bunt from Lundberg pushed Denning and Dayton to second and third, respectively. Ortiz was called out after being hit by a pitch, with the umpires ruling that she was intentionally in the path, but the Utes couldn’t be stopped: Morris singled to centerfield to bring Denning and Dayton home for two unearned runs. Bonstrom grounded out to send the Utes into the final inning with a 7-2 lead.

Denning started off the seventh strong for the Utes with a great catch deep in center field. A single from Celis was followed by another outfield catch, before a Brocki single advanced her. Murphy reached first on a fielder’s choice that put Celis out at third to end the game.

Today’s impressive performance puts Utah into the NCAA Women’s College World Series for the fifth time in program history, and the first time since 1994. The Series runs from June 1-9 in Oklahoma City and will air on ESPN and be available for streaming on several platforms.

“This team wanted it so bad,” Lopez told ESPN in a post-game interview. “I’m at a loss for words.”

Tune in next week to watch the Utah women work their magic.


[email protected]


[email protected]