Utah softball seeks first Women’s College World Series appearance in nearly 30 years

A trip to the Women’s College World Series is on the line this weekend as No. 15 seeded Utah hosts San Diego State in a best-of-three series in the NCAA super regionals at the stadium. Dumke.

The Utes, the Pac-12 tournament champions, take on San Diego State, the Mountain West Conference tournament champions, in Game 1 Friday (8 p.m., MDT, ESPNU).

Utah seeks its first WCWS berth since 1994 while the Aztecs pursue their first-ever WCWS appearance.

“I don’t think anyone expected us to have Supers,” said Utah All-Pac-12 first-team member Ellessa Bonstrom. “It’s so cool that we’re in this position and two games away from being in the World Series. It’s such a dream come true for me and so many other girls.

Big crowds are expected this weekend at Dumke Stadium, much like regionals last weekend when the Utes beat Southern Illinois and Mississippi twice.

“It’s an incredible atmosphere. This prepares us for the next stage of the College World Series. It’s gonna get tough. Just knowing that so many people believe in us and support us is amazing,” said infielder Ailya Belarde. “It’s a great feeling. So many firsts we’ve achieved this year. It’s been so fun to watch our fanbase grow and see each other grow from the fall until now.

What kind of vibe does Utah expect on Friday?

“Electric. Since last weekend it was amazing. Something I had never been a part of,” Bonstrom said. “Being in that kind of atmosphere is so important to us because we didn’t never been in this situation and that’s exactly how it’s going to be in Oklahoma City for the World Series. It’s good that we get a little insight into the crowd and the impact it has on us.

SDSU won the Los Angeles Regional last week. The Aztecs have allowed just three runs in their three regional games, including back-to-back shutouts.

In SDSU’s first 7-0 win over Liberty, Allie Light, Dee Dee Hernandez and Sarah Lehman combined to give up four hits and four walks. These pitchers helped the Aztecs record a 2.61 ERA in 2023, which is No. 1 in the West Mountain.

“SDSU uses a very different pitching rotation in every game they play,” Utah coach Amy Hogue said. “I expect the pitch to change once, maybe twice, even though we haven’t scored a lot of runs. It’s kind of their way of doing things.

The Aztecs have the best batting average in the MW – .309 – with four players batting better than .350. They scored at least five points in their six postseason games.

“It’s a really scrappy team,” Belarde said. “It’s not going to be easy but we’re ready for the fight.”

Utah is batting over .390 and averaging over seven points per game in the playoffs. Karlie Davison has hit four homers, had nine runs and has a playoff slugging percentage of 1,000. In the playoffs, Sophie Jacquez hits .567 and Haley Denning hits .500 while Abby Dayton and Julia Jimenez both hit .400.

Pitcher Mariah Lopez, meanwhile, has won her last seven starts, including five of the Utes’ six playoff wins. In those wins, Lopez had put up a 1.58 ERA and pitched six full games. With 21 wins, Lopez became Utah’s first 20-game winner since Generra Nielson in 2012.

“Mariah took the lead, that’s for sure. And she just gets stronger. She’s always had talent, but her confidence is growing,” Hogue said. “She has always had confidence in her teammates and now she is starting to gain confidence in herself. We see numbers crossed out to double digits, which is just phenomenal. She feels good and she will have the ball a lot.

One thing that could impact both teams this weekend is the weather, as isolated thunderstorms are forecast.

Hogue did his best to prepare his team.

“Time will do what time will do. There are enough windows to be able to play the games. But there could be some back and forth with those afternoon thunderstorms,” she said. “It worked out well because we were able to train in one of the windstorms already this week.

“It was helpful to have the wind blowing and to have (assistant coach DJ (Gasso) hitting some really high ones and our outfield having to deal with that. If it’s just wind, we must be prepared for the elements “It helped us. We are prepared for it.”

Utah understands what’s at stake – a chance to reach next week’s WCWS for the first time in nearly 30 years. For SDSU, this is an opportunity to make it happen for the first time.

“It’s for the World Series,” Hogue said, “so everyone is going to give it their all.”

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