We talked it out. We had a huddle. We didn’t want our season to end this weekend. We want to keep playing. We want to go farther than this. —BYU catcher Libby Sugg
SALT LAKE CITY — After suffering a heartbreaking defeat to Utah in the final inning Friday afternoon, BYU bounced back strong hours later, taking out its frustrations on Fordham, 12-1, in an elimination game at Dumke Family Stadium in the NCAA regionals.
“I was proud of the team for being resilient through the tough loss to Utah,” said BYU coach Gordon Eakin. “That’s not easy to do, to be able to regain your composure and come out and play a solid game. They did that.”
As a result, the Cougars have earned a rematch with the Utes Saturday (2 p.m. MDT) in the NCAA regional finals.
If BYU can manage to beat Utah Saturday afternoon, the two rivals would meet one more time for the regional championship Saturday night. The Cougars must knock off the Utes twice to keep their season alive.
Each of the last three meetings between the two teams have been decided by one run.
“It’s going to be another high-energy game. Another battle, I’m sure,” Eakin said. “I don’t know if it will be a one-run game, but we have to pitch well, we have to defend well and we’ve got to string some hits together.”
Between games Friday, the Cougars held a team meeting and discussed what was at stake.
“We talked it out. We had a huddle. We didn’t want our season to end this weekend. We want to keep playing. We want to go farther than this,” said BYU catcher Libby Sugg, who went 3 of 3 and knocked in four runs against Fordham. “We were definitely a little disappointed after the first game. We always want to win. But we came together and said, ‘we’re going to play loose, we’re going to take our hacks.’”
The Cougars wasted little time taking control, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning. All three runs came with two outs.
Then in the third inning, BYU plated eight runs, highlighted by Sugg's two-run homer over the left-field wall, to jump out to an 11-0 lead.
Sugg, Ashley Thompson and Lexi Tarow combined to go 8 for 10 from the plate against the Rams Friday night, and they combined to score seven runs.
Meanwhile, junior pitcher Arissa Paulson pitched a complete-game three-hitter in five innings for BYU in her first NCAA postseason appearance.
After stranding 11 base runners against Utah, the Cougars cleared the bases regularly against Fordham.
“We can’t leave 11 runners on base again and be successful,” Eakin said of Saturday’s showdown with Utah. “We’ve been able to get key hits in big-time games all year long. That will be our focus.”
The Utes staged a dramatic seventh-inning comeback to beat BYU 3-2 to advance to the regional championship game.
Afterward, Utah coach Amy Hogue knew there was a good chance that her team would meet the Cougars again Saturday.
What would be her approach to a possible rematch with BYU?
“We don’t change a thing,” Hogue said. “In this game, if you let off the gas pedal, whether you’re in the lead going into the championship day or whether you’re not in the driver’s seat going into the championship day, if you're flat-footed in this game, it will bite you. Get some rest and get your foot right back on the gas pedal and have fun doing it.”
What’s the key to beating Utah twice?
“We have to have the total package — all the defense, all the offense,” Sugg said. “We have to string (together) hits and make the routine plays and the tough plays.”
Eakin said beating Fordham handily was “a confidence-booster” going into Saturday’s contest. “We’ll fight as hard as we can.”