PROVO — Sports are all about wins and losses, but unfortunately for the BYU softball team, it got a taste of both Saturday afternoon as the Cougars lost senior shortstop JC Clayton to a possible ACL injury in the seventh inning of a 4-2 victory over Utah at Gail Miller Field.
Clayton was chasing down a Ute on the base paths in a pickle between second and third base. The runner swerved one way and Clayton followed — but her knee kept going in the opposite direction. The BYU shortstop instantly dropped to the dirt as the air was let out of the stadium.
A somber BYU head coach Gordon Eakin struggled to savor the rivalry victory to close out the regular season in the face of losing the heart and soul of his club.
“It’s really bittersweet,” Eakin said. “With a nice victory over a team like Utah, I think our team had just started gelling and playing good softball. Obviously it’s always good to win this game against Utah, (but) then to lose JC in the seventh inning the way we did (was difficult).
"We’ll wait for the final report, but the initial one is they think it’s an ACL. So based on those reports, we’ve lost JC for the year. ... You don’t want to lose any of your players, but she’s the one that just devastates this team.”
Unfortunately for BYU, this has happened before.
“This isn’t our first experience with something like this,” Eakin said. “Last year in regionals, Delaney Willard broke her hand and she was instrumental in our success. But we kept fighting and that’s just our character. We’ll keep fighting. Obviously it’s deflating today and it’s going to be deflating going forward, but we’ll make the necessary substitutions and keep fighting. That’s what sports is.”
BYU's junior standout pitcher out of Bingham High, Tori Almond, almost single-handidly shut down the Ute offense in a five-inning, two-hit shutout.
“Tori was having a great game and throwing very well. I had people ... convince me that she needed rest for the regional, and I shouldn’t have done that. I should have left Tori in for the whole game. She was throwing great and that’s a confidence builder. Even if she is hurt, I think that (confidence) outweighs that injury for her to continue throwing the way she had. I shouldn’t have listened to anybody and just made the call to leave her in,” Eakin said.
“You give the other team a lift when you take out a pitcher after five innings that has two-hit you. You give them a little hope, a little energy, a little 'what if?' And then they get that first hit and then they get a little more energy. That was a coaching error by me to take Tori out, even with her injury.”
Before any of that happened, BYU freshman catcher Coco Tauali turned on a 3-2 pitch and deposited the ball over the left-field fence for a home run in the second inning. Sophomore Megan Arnold added a pinch-hit solo shot in the fourth. Clayton and freshman Gordy Bravo pitched in with RBI singles to round out the scoring for the Cougars.
BYU finished the regular season winning 16 of its final 17 games, cementing its record at 33-13 as it awaits Sunday's regional announcement to see where it will play next.
Jonathan Boldt compiles statistics and covers sporting events in Utah Valley for the Deseret News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @jboldt24.