Utah Downs Oregon State in Season Finale, 5-3
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Utah softball (27-27, 9-15) closed out the regular season on Saturday, scoring all five of their runs in the fourth and fifth innings to defeat Oregon State (33-19, 9-15) on Senior Day, 5-3.
"We got the win we needed and are looking forward to the selection show tomorrow night. This season has been a grind and we played the best of the best every single week," head coach Amy Hogue said. "We knew our strength of schedule needed to improve, so we went for it. It almost put us below .500, but I am excited at how it has prepared us. This is the best .500 team we've ever had!"
Southpaw Mariah Lopez made the start in the circle this afternoon earning the win (7-5) after throwing 4.0 innings giving up three hits and two runs (one earned) before having her day come to an end in the fifth. The Gresham, Ore., native, Shi Smith, replaced Lopez and earned the save going 3.0 innings allowing one run (unearned) on four hits while striking out two. The two strikeouts give Smith 100 strikeouts on the season for the third time in her career and joins teammate Sydney Sandez who recorded her 100th strikeout on Thursday in the opening game of the series.
The Utes combined for nine hits this afternoon as Haley Denning and Jordyn Gasper recorded a multi-hit performance, each going 2-for-3 at the plate and Sophie Jacquez barreled up her first home run of her career in the fourth to pick up two-RBI. This marks the 19th multi-hit game for Denning this year.
Julia Jimenez joins Jacquez with two runs driven in on the afternoon, her team leading 15th multi-RBI game. Aliya Belarde, Ellessa Bonstrom and Kendall Lundberg also collected a hit in the contest.
This was a huge win for the Utes as they finish with an even .500 record (27-27), giving them a shot at earning a bid into the 2022 NCAA Division I Softball Tournament. Utah finished with their best overall regular season and Pac-12 record since 2017, when the Utes posted a 33-14 overall record en route to hosting their first NCAA Regional in program history.
"I am especially proud of the way we played in the Pac-12," Hogue said. "We beat everyone except for the conference champions, which means we are definitely prepared for the tournament."
Final: Utes 5, Beavers 3
Denning legged out a high chopper to second for her fourth hit of the series to put a Ute aboard with one gone in the opening frame. A pop up followed for the second out as Denning swiped her 23rd bag of the season to move into scoring position, but a strikeout ensued to end the Utah first.
Lopez made her way out to the circle for the Utes and quickly retired the first two Beavers of the game. A four-pitch walk and flyout to Jacquez in right followed to bring an end to the first inning.
Both sides were sat down in order during the second inning, as the Utah defense was locked in turning their second 5-4-3 double play of the series to end the frame.
Utah threatened in the third with back-to-back singles from Gasper and Belarde as Denning dropped a sacrifice bunt to move both into scoring position with two away. However, Jimenez couldn't take advantage fouling out toward left field to strand a pair on the bases.
Lopez continued to deal in the third, retiring the bottom and top of the Beaver lineup in order as Utah struck first in the top of the fourth off a two-run blast from Jacquez to take the lead, 2-0. Morris got the frame started for the Utes reaching on a fielding error by the short stop and AJ Militello entered as a pinch runner, stealing second to join two other Utes (Denning & Bonstrom) with double-digit steals on the season.
Oregon State was held quiet again in the fourth as Lopez faced the minimum. The Beavers did record a single but was put out at first after rounding the bag too far, being caught trying to get back to the base.
The Utes blew open the game in the fifth, scoring three runs on five hits. Gasper got the ball rolling recording her second hit of the game as Belarde grounded out, moving Gasper to second. Denning then sent a shot up the middle for her second hit, pushing Gasper to third and took off on the first pitch swiping her second bag of the contest. Jimenez followed lining a single into right field that plated both Gasper and Denning, giving Utah the 4-0 advantage.
Bonstrom kept the inning going finding her first hit as both Jimenez and Bonstrom advanced to second and third off a wild pitch. Morris drew a walk to load the bases and Lundberg plated the final run, dropping a single into shallow left to cross Jimenez and extend the lead 5-0.
Oregon State responded immediately, hitting a leadoff double and single that would chase Lopez out of the game. Smith entered the circle in relief and a throwing error by catcher Katie Faulk allowed a run to score and advance the other runner to third. Smith answered back with her first strikeout and a single up the middle would score the second run of the frame. Faulk redeemed herself catching a Beaver trying to swipe second to end the inning.
Three ground outs from the Utes made it a swift top of the sixth and the Beavers crossed a run in the bottom of the inning on three hits. Like the fifth, Oregon State hit a leadoff double and single that would plate the runner from second. Smith took care of the rest, collecting her second strikeout to get out of the bases loaded jam and join Sandez in the 100-strikeout club this season.
Utah left one on the bases in the seventh as Morris reached first on her second walk of the afternoon. Smith headed back out to the circle to close out the game for the Utes but didn't start how she would've liked, hitting the leadoff batter to bring the tying run to the plate. A fielder's choice followed to get the lead runner out at second and a pair of pop-ups ensued to seal the deal on the Utah victory.
Utah softball now waits to see if they have proved they are worthy of a bid into the NCAA tournament. The NCAA Division I Softball Selection show takes place tomorrow evening at 5 p.m. MT and can be seen on ESPN2.