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No. 13 Utah Softball Nearly Strikes Out in Puerto Vallarta Challenge

Taking place in sunny Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the Puerto Vallarta Challenge welcomed teams from all over the country to participate in a friendly series of five matches that certainly brought the heat.
Abu Sufian Mohammad Asib
University of Utah softball team head coach Amy Hogue tips player Julia Noskin (10) during an NCAA dual meet against Stanford University at the Dumke Family Softball Stadium in Salt Lake City on March 27, 2021 (Photo by Abu Asib | Daily Utah Chronicle)


With Utah softball continuing to warm up before Pac-12 play begins, the team headed down to sunny Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to greet another five opponents in the Puerto Vallarta Challenge. Unfortunately, the weekend only saw four of these scheduled matches, as the game against Clemson was forced to be canceled.

South Carolina

First on the weekend’s roster was No. 20 University of South Carolina Gamecocks, a team the Utes have never faced. The match was largely run by South Carolina, who delivered with an offense that the Utes simply could not withstand. Utah started the game at bat, but quickly switched to outfield without any runners on base. The Gamecocks wasted no time, hitting a homer straight off the bat to light up the scoreboard. Before the offense could heat up anymore, a defensive conference was called in the bottom of the third inning, allowing Utah to regroup. However, a few singles up the middle from South Carolina saw a quick advance, adding another run to the tally.

Up to bat at the top of fourth, Aliya Belarde brought the energy, sending a homer out into right field to keep Utah in the game. Unfortunately, this would be the only point the Utes would see all night, before South Carolina truly got to work. After a seamless third run in the bottom of the fifth, the Gamecocks unleashed their reserved energy in the final inning. Another homer and five additional runs on top shot the team to 1-9, leaving Utah in the dust and with no additional chances to fight back.


That afternoon brought another challenging opponent in the No. 25 Auburn University Tigers. The game that ensued was a frustrating one for fans, as Utah could never quite make it past third base even once during the match. The same could almost be said for the Tigers, save for a last minute run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The Utes started the first inning on offense but were quickly turned around, with Julia Jimenez and Belarde striking out after several tough pitches off the mound. On the opposite side, Auburn was able to creep all the way to third, before a Utah catch halted their efforts. Despite being a non-scoring game for the Utes, the match was still full of action and tension, with Utah managing to load the bases in subsequent innings. Unfortunately, a drawn out seventh inning found Auburn in the same circumstances and when a Tiger was allowed to walk, the opponents were able to eke out the win at 0-1.

Mississippi State

The next day brought some welcome rest — due to the cancellation of the match against Clemson that evening — and before they knew it, the Utes were back on the field on Saturday to welcome Mississippi State as their opponent for the first time since 2005. Prior to Saturday’s game, the two had only met twice, recording a win for each of them. Energized and ready for a fresh start, the Utes and the Bulldogs took to the field against the backdrop of a tropical Mexican sunset.

Mississippi headed up offense to start the night, quickly loading the bases but coming up empty. Utah followed suit, getting Kaylah Nelsen, Leilani Melendez and Jimenez on base before a single from Karlie Davison pushed Melendez to home plate. With the Utes now up 1-0, the second inning passed quickly, before the Bulldogs kicked off the third with a bang. A homer to left field with bases loaded handed Mississippi a speedy three runs to get a leg up on Utah, and suddenly the Utes found themselves striking out.

Entering the fifth inning, a series of doubles pushed the Bulldogs across the plates again, racking up another four runs in the process. Now 1-7, the Utes only had a handful of opportunities left to make up the difference, and in the bottom of the fifth, a homer from Belarde added to the tally. Regrettably, Mississippi was not finished, and the Bulldogs contributed three more runs for good measure, securing the win over Utah at an abysmal 2-10.

UC San Diego

Coming into the final game of the weekend, the Utes desperately needed a win after three hard-fought attempts. To close out the Puerto Vallarta Challenge, Utah took on the unranked UC San Diego Tritons for one last match before heading back to the States.

To start things off swiftly for Utah, Belarde sent a single to left field before stealing second. Davison doubled out to right, before an error from San Diego’s right field allowed her to third, sending Belarde home. The Tritons struggled to match the Utes’ energy, and before long it was back over to Utah for the bottom of the second inning. Jimenez and Nelsen sent doubles back to back, getting the former home early on. Nelsen remained at second for a few plays, before Belarde flied out, allowing Nelsen to score as well.

Now sitting 3-0, Utah was finally on top while the Tritons failed to make it home. In the bottom of the fourth, Haley Denning singled to the shortstop, before a throwing error by San Diego’s third base allowed Denning to score. The bottom of the sixth saw action from Denning as well after she hit a single and advanced to third courtesy of Belarde. Melendez then flied out, allowing Denning to score and add the final run of the day to the board, handing Utah the win and shutting out the Tritons at 5-0.

Though the team may not have taken home as many wins as they were hoping for, the Utes will have the chance to redeem themselves as they take on some familiar opponents next weekend in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs. The five-game series, starting on Friday, Feb. 23, can be streamed on


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About the Contributors
Abbey Thomas, Assistant Sports Editor
Abbey Thomas started at the Daily Utah Chronicle in the fall of 2022 as a Sports Writer and is now Assistant Sports Editor for the desk. She is currently studying Cultural Anthropology with a minor in history and hopes to pursue medicine one day. Abbey is a die-hard fan of Real Salt Lake and Manchester City, and loves to travel and practice photography in her free time!
Abu Sufian Mohammad Asib, Photographer
Abu Asib is a photographer. He has worked with the Chronicle since Fall 2019. He is a Bangladeshi student in the Civil Engineering PhD Program at the U. Photojournalism has always been in his wish list. Abu took this opportunity with open arms. He loves photographing the NCAA sports at the U. For his works, he received a scholarship and participated the famous ‘Sports Shooter Academy Workshop’ in March, 2020. He aims to enrich his photography portfolio from the Chronicle assignments. During weekends, he drives to the beautiful sights to photograph diverse landscapes and nightscapes. The natural wonders of Utah have immensely influenced Abu’s interest in photography.

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