Our goal is to see three pitchers, And to see three in five innings, that means our hitters did a nice job adjusting. There were a lot of things I was really proud of tonight. —Utah coach Amy Hogue
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s softball players have a lot of goals — individual and team — every time they take the field.
In their first game as NCAA Tournament host, they achieved just about all of them, including setting a program record for most runs scored and largest margin of victory in the Utes 10-0 five-inning victory over Fordham University.
“Our goal is to see three pitchers,” Utah head coach Amy Hogue said. “And to see three in five innings, that means our hitters did a nice job adjusting. There were a lot of things I was really proud of tonight.”
At the top of that list was starting pitcher Katie Donovan, who earned the win. She couldn’t have started any stronger as she struck out the first three Fordham batters. The Utah offense then put three runs on the board, beginning what would be a very productive day at the plate. In fact, Fordham used three pitchers in the game in four Utah at-bats as the game ended after five innings due to the mercy rule.
The Utah players said sometimes a new pitcher can knock a team out of an offensive rhythm, but no such thing happened to the Utes Thursday night.
“We like to take the mindset that when they change pitchers, it’s a zero-zero ball game again,” said third baseman Heather Bowen, who had a two-run home run in the bottom of the second inning. “We have to go out and do a job and get hits off of her.
Donovan added, “It’s all about us. We focus on what we can do.”
Hogue said that mindset is something Utah works on year-round.
“The intensity actually raises,” she said. “We don’t want people to be able to change pitchers on us and have it affect any of the momentum.”
Donovan said she was a mixture of nervous and excited about starting in Thursday’s first post-season game at Dumke Family Stadium.
“All week, what we’ve been leading up to is getting ready to play,” she said. “I was so excited to go play, and I think everyone else was too.”
Bowen said in dealing with the pressure of the playoffs, they tried to stick to the routine that helped them earn a national ranking and a No. 11 seed.
“We came here, had a team lunch, watched a video, went home,” Bowen said. “We came back, joked around, had some fun, came out and did what we did.”
Fordham coach Bridget Orchard said nerves got the best of her team, especially in the first inning. “Coming in, we felt we were pretty prepared,” she said. “We had some nerves, which led to some mistakes mentally and physically. We made so many uncharacteristic errors, and Utah jumped on it. They weren’t going to let us have anything back after that.”
Utah’s offense couldn’t have been much more productive with BreOnna Castaneda going 2-for-3 with a double and Alyssa Barrera going 1-for-2 with three RBIs. Hannah Flippen went 3-for-3 with two RBIs. Bowen went 2-of-3 with three RBIs.
The Utes were especially pleased to earn such a resounding victory after losing five of their last six games.
“They needed this game to get back in a good groove,” Hogue said. “I guarantee they were just as pumped for this game as they were for any game that we’ve had in the past two weeks. A lot of them needed some feel-good swings and a chance to run the bases, and for Katie to have some kids swing and miss.”
Hogue said each victory means two more games for the Utes and that is all they're worried about as they prepare. The Utes will play BYU Friday at 1 p.m. in the championship bracket. The Cougars, who also won by mercy rule against Mississippi State (8-0), beat the Utes in a mid-week game in March. Hogue said she was watching intently as the Cougars earned their first-round win.
“I watched every pitch, and I’ll watch it again tonight,” she said. “We’ll do everything we can to come prepared to give ourselves the best chance to beat them. We did throw away the rear view mirror, so I don’t remember a lot about that meeting in March. We took a lot of notes, and I think we’re as prepared as we’ve ever been to go have a great day tomorrow.”