PROVO, Utah — Senior pitcher Hannah Howell found her groove behind the mound, leading BYU to an 9-4 victory during game one and recording a perfect game during game two to preserve the 11-0 victory over the Loyola Marymount Lions on Saturday.
Howell's five-inning perfect game was the second perfect-game in program history and first in eight years since Summer Tobias recorded the program's first perfect game in 2005 against Utah Valley.
"We had a good talk last night about what we play for and why we play," head coach Gordon Eakin said. "I think that discussion and what we found worked today because that's as much determination and as much heart as we've played with all year long. When we do that, we're a pretty good team."
BYU (19-22, 8-4 PCSC) evened the series 2-2 with LMU (27-20, 10-6 PCSC) after dropping the first two games Friday. The Cougars had just three hits against LMU's aces yesterday but slugged an amazing 26 hits in both games Saturday. Coco Tauali'i went 4-for-6 through two games to fuel the Cougars offense, while Gordy Bravo finished 3-for-4 on the day including an inside-the-park home run.
Leading 5-4 at the end of the fifth inning, BYU broke the game open and scored four consecutive runs in the bottom of the sixth to beat LMU for the first time this season and improve to 7-4 in conference play. JC Clayton was a perfect 3-for-3 in the game with one run scored. Coco Taualii had five of the team's eight RBIs, including a three-run shot in the bottom of the second.
To start things off in the top of the first, LMU hit a two-run homer taking an early 2-0 lead. That home run marked the third time in the last two days that LMU had taken the lead with a home run in the first inning.
In the bottom of the second, Taualii smacked her three-run homer over the left center field fence to give the Cougars a 3-2 lead. The hit was Taualii's first home run of her career and the 12th of the year for the team. The three-run shot also gave BYU its first lead in the series against LMU.
In the top of the third, Katie Manuma came to the pitchers mound to replace Tori Almond. On Manuma’s second pitch, LMU’s Meghan Harman hit a two-run homer over the center field fence, allowing the Lions to retake the lead at 4-3. Center fielder Alexandra Hudson Shamo prevented another LMU long ball in the inning after reaching the warning track and making a great catch to halt the Lion momentum.
To start the top of the fifth, Hannah Howell came to the mound for the Cougars. With the bases loaded, Howell struck out two LMU batters and forced a fly ball to prevent any more LMU runs. BYU’s Lacey Millett had a base hit up the middle in the bottom of the frame, sending Taualii in for another to extend BYU's lead to 5-4.
Two-straight singles from Clayton and Jenna Goar started the bottom of the sixth for BYU and then a walk to Bravo loaded the bases. Manuma took advantage and hit a single to left field sending pinch runner Bailie Hicken and Clayton home for two more runs for the 7-4 lead. With the bases loaded again in the inning, Madisen Robb smacked a long fly ball that landed just inside the center field fence to send Bravo in for another score. Taualii continued the run with a sac fly to center field for a career-high five RBIs in the game.
Howell sat down three-straight in the top of the seventh to earn the win and improve to 8-14 on the season. Howell gave up no runs on just two hits in her three innings pitched.
BYU ousted LMU 11-0 during game two, fueled by strong hitting and Howell's perfect game.
"It speaks volumes for itself," said Eakin of Howell's perfect game. "It's awesome, especially in this environment today where we had to have the win. She seemed to have her stuff today so we decided to go with her in the second game and she was lights out the rest of the day."
BYU got off to a quick start, scoring two runs on three hits in the bottom of the first inning. The Cougars scored on an LMU error as Bravo hit a grounder that squeezed under the glove of second baseman Sterling Shuster, driving in Clayton from second. Bravo scored later in the inning as Shamo singled a ball off LMU pitcher Gouveia’s glove, upping the Cougars lead to 2-0.
After retiring the LMU batters one-two-three in the first inning, Howell had back-to-back strikeouts to end the second inning.
BYU added on three more runs in the bottom of the third inning, capitalizing on multiple walks. Shamo singled to right field before Goar was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hicken walked to bring in the Cougars first run of the inning. Duckworth reached base on a fielding error and Bravo walked to extend the Cougars lead to 5-0.
In the top of the third, Howell faced three batters, retiring the first two on pop-outs, before Nicole Clowdus lined out to third. Howell retired the next three batters in the top of the fourth.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth, BYU got the bats going. Goar hit an RBI single to left center with one out to extend the Cougars lead to six runs. BYU’s next batter, Anna Hudson, hit a deep ball to left center field, recording a double and driving in another run. The Cougars scored two more runs off a wild pitch and LMU error.
With two outs, Bravo hit a line drive down the left field line that dropped just fair and rolled into the left field corner. Rounding third, with the throw coming to the plate, Bravo squeezed past the LMU catcher to complete the inside-the-park home run. Three more runs crossed the plate in the inning to put BYU up 11-0 heading into the top of the fifth.
Entering the top of the frame, Howell looked to secure the perfect game and close the game via the eight-run rule. Howell forced two straight pop-ups and struck out LMU’s final batter to record the 11-0 victory and BYU’s second perfect game in program history. Howell also earned her second win of the day to improve to 9-14 on the season.
"Obviously, it's pretty exciting," said Howell of her perfect game. "Everybody played great today. I can't even describe how I feel right now."
The Cougars return to action April 19 as they travel to Santa Clara for a four-game conference series, with game one of Friday's doubleheader slated for a 12 p.m. PDT start.
Chris Scheitinger is a student at Brigham Young University studying Public Relations. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org