Riding the outstanding pitching of McKenna Bull and consistent overall play, BYU softball finished off a West Coast Conference series sweep over second-place San Diego on Saturday afternoon at Gail Miller Field with 9-3 and 6-2 victories.
Bull allowed only nine hits and five runs through three games against the Toreros to help the league-leading Cougars widen their advantage in the WCC standings. BYU improved to 34-9 overall and 9-0 in WCC play, while USD saw its record fall to 28-21 and 7-5 in the WCC. The Cougars also equaled their win total from last year when BYU finished 34-23 after advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
"We played very well this weekend,” BYU head coach Gordon Eakin said. “It was difficult with the weather and with us having to pull the tarp on and get it off. It was emotional and draining, but we played great ball. I'm extremely proud of the team for staying focused and taking care of a very good San Diego team. "
With weather forcing a split of the second game between Friday and Saturday, the Cougars and Toreros played the better part of two games on Saturday at Miller Park. After play in the second game was ultimately suspended in a 3-3 third-inning tie on Friday night, BYU never looked back on Saturday with a strong overall effort on Senior Day.
“We were very consistent in all phases of the game,” Eakin said. “McKenna had a great weekend. She was tired in this last game, but she just hit her spots really well. We played good defense and were very consistent offensively.”
Bull improved to 30-6 on the year with wins in all three games. She allowed only one hit in the first game on Friday, gave up only five more during the split-day second game and nearly delivered a no-hitter in the finale before allowing three hits in the final frame.
Offensively, Gordy Bravo totaled four hits in six at-bats during the final two games while Lauren Bell added three hits in seven plate appearances. Ashley Thompson scored four runs while McKenzie St. Clair drove in six runs, including her first career grand slam.
Another highlight of the weekend came on Senior Day on Saturday. Senior Megan Arnold played first base in the 6-2 victory and went 2-for-3 at the plate, including a double. Senior right fielder Lacey Hofstedt went 1-for-3 on Saturday with a stolen base while going 2-for-6 during the final two games with a triple and a run scored.
"Both Megan and Lacey had great performances today and have throughout the season,” Eakin said. “They are an important part of our team and more importantly than that, they're great representatives of BYU and BYU softball."
After a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the third inning was suspended Friday night due to weather, BYU was dominating on Saturday to earn a 9-3 victory.
Bull picked up right where she left off in the series opener on Friday, pitching only seven pitches in a 1-2-3 first inning. She got some run support in the bottom half of the frame when Thompson drilled a full-count pitch over the center field wall for a three-run home run. Thompson’s shot brought home Bravo and Bell, who got on base with a walk and bunt single, respectively.
In the top half of the second, the Toreros evened the score when Chloe Kaneko cranked a three-run shot of her own over the center field fence. The runs were the first San Diego could manage off Bull on Friday, including BYU’s 8-0 win in the first half of the planned doubleheader.
The Cougars seemed poised to respond in the bottom half of the second when Hofstedt recorded her first extra-base hit of the season after a two-out line drive found the left-field fence and the speedy senior slid into third with a triple. The Cougars, however, where unable to take advantage when Bravo popped up in the next at-bat to end the inning.
The Torero hitters seemed to be in a rhythm in the third, but Cougar leftfielder Mercedes O'Connor made a running grab at the warning track followed by a diving catch in shallow left to keep San Diego at bay. Her diving play turned out to be the final out of Friday’s action as the continual onslaught of rain forced the suspension of the game until Saturday.
When the game resumed at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Bull held the Toreros to only one hit the rest of the way while BYU got on the board again in a big way in the bottom of the fifth with five runs on four hits. The scoring was powered by home runs from Bravo and St. Clair, who each delivered her fourth out-of-the-park shot of the year.
BYU would have scored another run in the inning had it not been for a strong play by San Diego catcher Mary Grabowski, who made a perfect throw to barely catch Hofstedt attempting to steal second one pitch before Bravo delivered her shot down the right-field line to put BYU up 4-3. The real scoring fireworks were yet to come, however, as St. Clair’s two-out blast over the center field wall was the ultimate base clearer, bringing home Bell, O’Connor and Thompson on her first-career grand slam.
The Cougars added a final run in the bottom of the sixth with Bell picking up her third hit of the game to bring Hofstedt across the plate. Bull retired the Toreros in order the last three innings to pick up her 29th win of the season, going all seven innings in the split-day game while surrendering only five hits. USD’s Paige von Sprecken fell to 21-10 on the year, giving up seven Cougar hits in five innings pitched.
For the game, Bravo, Bell and Thompson each scored twice for BYU while Bravo (2-for-3) joined Bell (3-for-4) with a multi-hit performance. Four Cougars knocked in runs, highlighted by St. Clair’s and Thompson with four and three RBIs, respectively.
Bull took a no-hit bid into the final inning of the finale on Saturday afternoon to help BYU achieve the series sweep with a 6-2 victory.
Bull pitched the first six innings without giving up a hit, and Cougar batters continued their strong play with timely hitting as they scattered 11 hits through six innings at the plate.
After a scoreless first frame, BYU started the scoring with two runs on three hits in the second inning. Broderick led off with a base hit to center before scoring on a single to left field by Alexa Strid, who later crossed the plate on Bravo’s RBI single to left.
The Cougars kept the momentum in the third frame with five hits fueling three more runs, highlighted by a two-run double by St. Clair to score Thompson and Broderick. St. Clair was then brought home when Coco Tauali’i placed the ball safely into left-center field.
After San Diego got fly outs from Bell and Arnold in the fourth, Thompson kept the inning alive for BYU by drawing her fifth walk of the series with the Toreros. Her good eye at the plate paid a quick dividend for the Cougar offense as Broderick followed with a drive to right that USD’s Kailey Hill barely got a glove on before it found its way to the fence. Broderick’s third triple of the year gave BYU a 6-0 lead going into the fifth inning.
Meanwhile, Bull and the Cougar defense continued to mow down the San Diego batters. After offering up a base on balls to Frankie Perales in the game’s first at-bat, Bull retired the next 18 batters in order to enter the final inning without giving up a hit to the Toreros.
Bull’s no-hit bid, however, came to an end when USD left fielder Morgan Kurtz slapped a single between third base and the shortstop as the first batter in the top of the seventh. After Bull struck out the next two batters, Chloe Kaneko finally got the Toreros on the scoreboard with a double just out of reach of a diving Bravo in center field to score Kurtz from first base. Kaneko was then brought home on a Tatum Schultz single to left-center before Bull struck out Caitlin Rooney to end the game for the final 6-2 tally.
Bull struck out five Toreros during the game to earn her 30th win of the season. At the plate, Bravo, Broderick, Strid and Arnold each had two hits with Broderick and Thompson scoring two runs apiece in the winning effort.
BYU softball continues its home stand as it hosts Weber State on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. MDT, in a game that was postponed earlier in the month. The game will be broadcast live on BYUtv.
McKay Perry is the sports information director for BYU softball and an assistant sports information director for BYU football. Contact him at [email protected]