Grand Canyon University managed to piece together an 11-run eighth inning to eliminate Utah Valley University from the 2018 WAC Softball Tournament, 18-7 in eight innings, on Friday afternoon in Las Cruces.
The second-seeded Wolverines (21-29) got a pair of three-run home runs from Basia Query and Lyndsay Steverson on the afternoon, but then missed a golden opportunity to score in the last of the seventh inning en route to falling in extra innings to the fourth-seeded Antelopes (30-27).
With the setback, UVU finishes its 2018 WAC Softball Tournament run with a 1-2 record after falling to No. 6 UMKC in its opening game and defeating No. 5 CSU Bakersfield in an elimination game on Thursday evening. After taking second place in the WAC regular-season standings, the Wolverines will now await a possible postseason invitation to the NISC (National Invitational Softball Championship). Brackets for the second-year NISC will be announced on Sunday evening following the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.
Query led the Wolverines offensively in the ballgame by going 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a run scored, while Steverson finished 1-for-4 with three runs driven home and a run scored as well. Brianna Moeller and Skylar Cook also had nice offensive performances for UVU by each going 2-for-4.
GCU struck first in the elimination game with a pair of opening-inning runs to take a 2-0 advantage. Twin sisters Sierra Smith and Shea Smith drove in runs for the Lopes with respective RBI singles to give Grand Canyon the early lead.
Utah Valley didn't waste any time responding, however, as it answered right back with four runs of its own in the bottom of the first to take a 4-2 lead. Following a leadoff double from Moeller and a bunt single from Cook, the WAC Freshman of the Year Peyton Angulo plated the first run for the Wolverines with an RBI single to right to make it a 2-1 score. After a groundout, Query then delivered the big hit in the frame for the Wolverines with a go-ahead three-run home run to left to give UVU its first lead of the game at 4-2.
Also in the last of the first, the junior speedster Cook set a single-season school record for the Wolverines by stealing her 25th base of the season. Cook, who improved to a perfect 25-for-25 in stolen bases this year, stole second base in the frame for her third stolen bag of the tournament. With the first-inning steal, Cook passed former UVU great and all-time school record holder Morgan Summers Smith's previous single-season record of 24 that she set in 2016.
The Lopes made it a one-run game in the second thanks to a two-out RBI single from Nikki Gonzalez and regained the lead in the third with a two-out two-run pinch-hit double from Jordan Keeton to give GCU a 5-4 advantage. Keeton delivered her two-run double right after a UVU throwing error, as one of the runs came in unearned.
Grand Canyon continued to hold the 5-4 lead until the last of the fifth when the first-team all-WAC performer Steverson blasted out a two-out three-run home run to left-center to give the Wolverines the lead again at 7-5. Steverson's team-leading 10th home run of the season drove in both Moeller and Angulo who had previously reached in the frame via a respective fielder's choice and a hit batter.
The Antelopes then again answered with a two-run home run of their own off the bat of Sierra Smith in the top of the sixth to tie the game at 2-2. With the go-ahead run later leading from second in Bianca Boling, Shea Smith drove a ball to deep left-center, but Cook made a fantastic running catch up against the wall to keep the game deadlocked at 7-all.
Still 7-7 in the seventh, Lexi Sorensen then made her first appearance of the tournament in the circle for the Wolverines and didn't disappoint by mowing down the Lopes in order to give UVU a chance to win it in the last of the frame.
Following a leadoff double to right from Moeller and an infield single from Cook, the Wolverines then had a golden opportunity to score with the heart of the order coming up with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh. GCU's Brianna Aguilar-Beaucage then got Angulo to ground into a fielder's choice for the first out of the frame and followed with an inning-ending double play on a hard lineout to center off the bat of Steverson and a baserunning blunder to send the game to extra innings.
In the top of the eighth, GCU got runners on first and third with nobody out after a leadoff walk and a Utah Valley throwing error to set the table for the Lopes. Grand Canyon's Gonzalez then drove in the go-ahead run with an RBI single to left to give GCU an 8-7 lead. Shea Smith followed with a two-run single to make it 10-7, and Kendsey Hill then blew the game open with a two-run double to give Grand Canyon a 12-7 lead. Two more runs came in unearned on another UVU error, and another came home on a bases-loaded walk to make it 15-7. GCU then capped an 11-run eighth inning with a bases-clearing double from Bohling to take an 18-7 lead. Seven of GCU's 11 runs in the inning were unearned, however, as Utah Valley committed two errors in the frame.
The Wolverines got a pinch-hit single from senior Taleigh Williams in the last of the eighth, but it wasn't enough as GCU's Aguilar-Beaucage retired the next batter she faced to eliminate UVU from the WAC Tournament.
Aguilar-Beaucage (12-15) earned the win in the circle for the Lopes after allowing just three runs on seven hits in 7.2 innings of work, while Sorensen (0-4) was tagged with the loss for the Wolverines after surrendering four earned runs on just two hits in an inning and a third.
Gonzalez led the Lopes at the plate in the ballgame by going 4-for-6 with two runs scored and two runs batted in, while Sierra Smith finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs and three runs scored.
After going 1-2 at the tournament, UVU now holds an 8-8 all-time record in WAC Tournament play. Despite being eliminated, the Wolverines also posted their best finish in program history in the WAC regular season by placing second in league play with a 10-4 conference record. Utah Valley won eight of its final nine WAC games down the stretch in league play to post the program-best second-place finish. The 21 wins overall this season are also UVU's most since 2013, when the Wolverines won a school record 35 games that year.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit GoUVU.com.