Utah Valley University clubbed a pair of home runs but couldn't slug its way past Albany in Saturday's first elimination game at the Eugene Regional. With the loss, the Wolverines — who made the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance - are eliminated from postseason play.
"This was a tough game for us, but it was good to see the girls fighting hard all the way through," Utah Valley head coach Nikki Palmer said. "The seniors closed out their great careers at Regionals and hopefully this sets a precedent for our program for years to come."
Freshmen Brianna Gatlin and Brittney Vansway homered late, and senior Debra Lovell added an RBI double, but three runs on four hits were all UVU (18-42) could muster against UA (34-12) starter Brittany McFawn (20-7).
Coming off a tough-luck loss against Wisconsin, in which she allowed only one run on two hits to the Badgers, McFawn went the distance for the Great Danes, striking out eight Wolverines and walking none.
Meanwhile, UVU starting pitcher Josi Summers (10-19) entered the contest having made Wolverine history earlier this season when she no-hit Albany in a 3-0 Utah Valley win at the Rebel Spring Games on March 13. The WAC Tournament MVP couldn't keep the Danes out of the hit column in this, though, surrendering three runs over the first 1.1 innings before being replaced by freshman Bailey Moore.
Moore saw out the final 4.2 innings, allowing one run on just three hits while striking out a pair. For the Regional, which includes Friday night's defeat at the hands of No. 1 Oregon, Moore threw 7.0 combined innings and allowed five hits. She posted an ERA of 2.00 in Eugene.
Utah Valley jumped out to a 1-0 lead thanks to back-to-back two-out doubles from Robinson and Lovell. Robinson went the other way on a 3-2 pitch, finding the gap in right center for a two-bagger, and Lovell brought her in to score when her liner down the left field line just eluded the glove of the diving Albany left fielder.
The Danes answered right back, though, erasing the deficit in one swing when Charlise Castro homered to left field with two outs in the frame. The home run — Castro's 11th of the year — scored a pair, bringing home Vicky McFarland who had doubled to begin the inning.
Two more Albany runs came across in the second, putting UVU in a 4-1 hole early. Though Moore's performance in the circle kept UA off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game — she retired seven straight at one point — the Wolverines struggled for base runners. Utah Valley stranded just one runner on base in the game, and Gatlin and Vansway's homers were each solo efforts.
Gatlin cut into the lead with her third home run of the year to lead off the fifth inning, making the score 4-2 in favor of Albany. The home run stood as the 50th of the season for the Wolverines, setting a new single season team record for home runs. The previous mark was 49, set during the 2007 season.
Vansway got in on the power display when she lifted a shot over the wall in left field with one out, but it was all UVU could muster in the do-or-die seventh. It was the fourth homer of the season for the second team All-WAC performer and WAC Freshman of the Year runner-up.
The loss not only ends Utah Valley softball's historic postseason run, but it also caps the careers of four Wolverine seniors. Lovell, Robinson, Summers and Dara Rahm each suited up in the green and white for the final time. Each senior was a key cog in Utah Valley's two most prominent seasons in program history. Last year, UVU set a new program record with 35 wins, and this season became the first Wolverine team to win a WAC Tournament title and qualify for the postseason.
"This is the first postseason trip for any team at our university and that's a testament to our seniors and what they set out to do at the beginning of the year," Palmer said. "I think this is definitely setting a standard for this program moving forward."
Robinson ends her career as the program's all-time leader in home runs with 41 and is second all-time in hits at 195. Also, Summers holds UVU's top spot in career wins (37) and strikeouts (317).
"I've committed four years to Utah Valley and I'm proud to be a Wolverine," Robinson said looking back on her decorated career. "It's been life changing ... I became a better person and I got a degree. UVU will always have a place in my heart."
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.