Yeah, we had a rough start. It seems like it takes a while for us to come and get into a groove, but we’re working on getting into that groove sooner, rather than later. —Utah third baseman Heather Bowen
SALT LAKE CITY — After another slow start led to being swept in their first Pac-12 homestand of the season, the Utah softball team may be frustrated, but they are far from discouraged.
“Yeah, we had a rough start,” said senior third baseman Heather Bowen after UCLA defeated Utah 9-4 Saturday afternoon. “It seems like it takes a while for us to come and get into a groove, but we’re working on getting into that groove sooner, rather than later. Yeah, it’s cost us a couple of runs, so we’re just trying to find our tempo and our pace and get on track.”
Both teams used three pitchers as they struggled to find what, at times, seemed like an elusive strike zone. There were 21 walks in the game — 10 for UCLA batters and 11 for Utah hitters.
It made any errors extremely costly, and while the Bruins managed to capitalize on their opportunities, Utah did not, leaving 11 runners on base. UCLA actually left more runners on base, but Utah made four fielding errors that were the difference in a game that featured nine hits from the Bruins and six hits from the Utes.
Among those hits was sophomore Ryley Ball, the lone native Utahn on the squad. The Fremont High alum was starting for the fifth time and earned two RBIs when she hit a double in the fourth inning, sparking what looked like a comeback for the Utes.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ball said of playing at Utah. “Not a lot of Utah kids get to go to D-1 schools. It’s just amazing to be here.”
She said the team has chemistry that will help them weather storms and mature into their talent.
“We all get along, and that’s nice,” Ball said. “We have a good chemistry. I think this will put a fire in our bellies.”
That stalled in the sixth inning, when walks resulted in another run for the Bruins, and then UCLA’s defense held the Utes scoreless.
Bowen said the team tried to keep it light, even though there were frustrations.
“As a hitter, it’s really frustrating, especially in my position, leaving runners out there,” she said. “I know it’s my job to score those runners, so it’s really frustrating for me to leave them out there.”
Head coach Amy Hogue said tht this team is young and cerebral.
“This group is a bunch of thinkers,” she said. “Sometimes that’s good, like during the week when we’re training and preparing, and you see them working and listening and preparing and growing, it’s really fun to coach a bunch of thinkers during the week. On the weekend, when we have games, we have a group of kids who are struggling to get out of their thinking mode and just go play.”
The players are quiet and confident, even with the slow starts and mistakes.
“It’s been hard at times, for me, because we’re this close to getting a couple of wins, and I would like some sense of urgency, but what we do is a marathon,” she said. “It’s not a sprint. Some of these freshman are getting quite a bit of experience early on against good teams. It’s going to do nothing but good things in the long run.”
She said their talent makes her anxious for their success on the scoreboard.
“They’ve got a lot of the pieces,” she said. “It’s just pretty erratic when it shows up. That’s something they’ll mature into a little bit, some stability and some consistency.”
Bowen said that the players are young, and that means giving everyone time to gel and mature.
“I mean, it’s only been a couple of series, so we know we have some time,” she said. “We’re not panicking or anything like that. We have some Pac-12 series left, and we’ll figure it out. We’ll get our groove. We’ll get there.”