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Softball Battles but Falls to No. 1 Oklahoma

Feb 27, 2022

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif.- Utah softball went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the nation on Sunday morning to close out the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, falling to Oklahoma, 2-1.
Utah finished the weekend with a 4-1 record, collecting wins against San Diego, UC Riverside, CSUN and UC Davis and is now 11-5 overall on the season.  

"I am proud of our team and the weekend we just had. We had several games where we played well on both sides of the game and I can't say enough about our pitching staff right now," head coach Amy Hogue said. "Each weekend they have proven to us that we can count on them to put us in position to win every single game."

The Game
In a game that featured a lot of storylines entering the contest, the Utes stayed locked in to what needed to be done on the field holding the Sooners to their lowest single-game run total of the year and took them the full seven innings for just the fourth time this season.

Facing the top pitching staff in the nation, Utah simply couldn't get the bats going only getting one across the plate on two hits. Senior pitcher Sydney Sandez was given the ball to start the game and immediately faced off against Jocelyn Alo, who is currently tied with the NCAA home run record (95). Sandez didn't shy away and fanned Alo swinging to begin the game. Sandez built off that energy and issued two ground balls to end the inning and put away the Sooners in order.

Senior Jordyn Gasper was the game's first base runner being patient at the plate and drawing a walk. Gasper then stole her sixth base of the year and was able to advance to third off a throw from the catcher that tailed away on the right side of the bag into center. Sophomore Sophie Jacquez stepped in with a chance to score first but struck out swinging to end the inning.  

As Sandez retired seven of the first eight batters, junior Haley Denning recorded the first hit of the ball game for Utah laying down a bunt single and didn't slow down making it all the way to third off of a throwing error by the Sooner third basemen. The following batter, sophomore Aliya Belarde, slapped a single to drive in the only run for Utah and put the Utes on top, 1-0.

It was an action packed fourth inning for the Sooners as they were able to take the lead scoring two on two hits. With runners on first and second, Utah third basemen Julia Jimenez moved in on the bunt attempt and quickly made the throw over to Denning at third, who got pushed off the bag but was able to keep the tag on as the runner came off for the first out. Immediately after, right fielder Sophie Jacquez made another incredible play gunning out the runner at home by a mile. With two out and runners on first and third, Oklahoma sent the runner to second and on a controversial call, was ruled safe by the umpire allowing the runner on third to score.

Junior Halle Morris then came in to pitch for Sandez and struck out the next batter swinging, but the Sooners were on top 2-1.

It was a pitcher's duel the next two innings and after giving up a single and a walk in the top of the fifth, Utah made some magic happen as Oklahoma grounded right to third and set up the rare 5-4-3 triple play, keeping the game within one and the top of the order coming up in the sixth.

The Sooners turned to their star freshman in the circle, Jordy Bahl who was the 2020-21 National Gatorade Player of the Year, to hold the lead and did her job striking out four and retiring all nine batters she faced to propel the Sooners to victory and stay undefeated on the season.

"I'm happy with how the team is coming together. After three weekends, I feel as if we know what we are capable of and what it's going to take to win games against the top teams in the country," said Hogue. "We've learned how to compete against the best, but it's time to find a way to win some of those big games."

Over the weekend, Utah outscored their opponents 26 to three and as a team had the second-best batting average (.349) of all 28 teams that were at the Mary Nutter Classic, behind only Baylor (.364). The Utes totaled 44 hits and drove in 25 RBI across the five games and was T-2 with nine stolen bases.

Defensively, Utah owned the best fielding percentage (.993) with 93 putouts in 136 chances. The pitching staff was also the most dominant with the lowest ERA (0.68) in 31.0 innings pitched.
Individually, Belarde had a stellar tournament batting .600 (T-1), with nine hits (T-3) and an on-base percentage of .625 (3rd).In the circle, the duo of Mariah Lopez and Sandez were spectacular. Lopez had an ERA of 0.64 (4th), held the opposing batters to an average of .158 (7th) and only allowed one run. For Sandez, she was seventh among pitchers in ERA (1.24), fourth in runs allowed (2), giving up only 7 hits (T-5) and lead the tournament with only one walk.  

Up Next
Utah softball will close out their preseason tournament slate next weekend at the Judi Garman Classic, hosted by Cal State Fullerton. Taking place March 4-6 at the Anderson Family Field, Utah will go up against host Fullerton, Kansas, Texas A&M, Pennsylvania and Seattle University.

Additionally, the Utes will end the southern California road trip with a double-header on Tuesday, March 8, against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

Follow the Utes
For fans of the Utah softball program, follow the Utes on Twitter (@Utah_Softball), Instagram (@utahsoftball) and Facebook (@utesoftball).