Tough loss. Game of inches. We’ll have to rebound, come back and take it one pitch at a time. That truly was a game of inches, so we have to regroup. —BYU softball coach Gordon Eakin
BYU softball coach Gordon Eakin knows that in the NCAA Tournament, there’s usually not much that separates winning from losing.
He and the Cougars learned that again the hard way at the Eugene Regional. Drake edged BYU 3-2 Thursday in the double-elimination tournament at Jane Sanders Stadium.
“Tough loss. Game of inches,” Eakin said. “We’ll have to rebound, come back and take it one pitch at a time. That truly was a game of inches, so we have to regroup.”
With the game tied 2-2 in the sixth inning, the Bulldogs drew a bases-loaded walk that proved to be the game-winner.
Drake’s Taryn Pena led things off with a triple in the sixth before Kelsey Wright was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners.
The Cougars decided to walk Nicole Newman, who had homered earlier, to load the bases.
“It’s always a tough decision. I don’t get involved in that,” Eakin said of the decision to give Newman an intentional pass. “That’s the pitching coach. He came down and told me that we were walking her, putting her on, and I didn’t disagree with that.”
One batter later, Tasha Alexander drew a bases-loaded walk from Autumn Moffat, who had replaced starter Kerisa Viramontes, and Drake held on for the one-run victory.
“Alexander behind (Newman) is a pretty good hitter, too,” Eakin said. “We just didn’t make the pitches we needed to make. Probably was the right decision in that situation to walk her. We just didn’t execute on the next hitter.”
“It was tough (to lay off those pitches) because I really wanted to hit,” Alexander said. “But coach told me to take a pitch and I needed that for sure to help me calm down and after that I was relaxed and ready and knew that whatever was going to happen was going to happen. We had another inning if we needed it.”
Drake will play the winner of Thursday night’s matchup between No. 1 seed Oregon and Albany Friday. BYU gets the losing team Friday (6:30 p.m., MDT, WatchESPN).
The Cougars, who had just six hits against Drake, now find themselves in a must-win situation.
“Two years ago we played Missouri (in the NCAA Tournament) and the same thing happened,” said BYU catcher Libby Sugg. “We lost our first game and we ended up going to the next day. I do believe we have the potential to beat Drake. They are a very good team as it is, but I think it could have gone either way, just a different play and a different hit. I feel like we can come back and do what we need to do against whomever we play (Friday). I think we can get there.”
The Cougars fell to 35-21 on the season while the Bulldogs improved to 44-10.
BYU grabbed a 1-0 lead in the third inning after four consecutive infield hits, including Sugg reaching on a fielder’s choice that plated Rylee Jensen.
Drake tied up the game in the bottom of the frame on a solo home run by Newman.
The Cougars jumped back on top, 2-1, on Brooke Vander Heide’s RBI single in the fourth.
That would be BYU’s final lead of the game.
In the fifth inning, Newman belted a one-out single and Libby Ryan came in to pinch-run. Ryan stole second and advanced to third on a Cougar throwing error. Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Mandi Roemmich tied the game at 2-2 with a base hit up the middle.
This is Drake's first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 10 years. BYU, on the other hand, is making its 14th consecutive appearance.
But that didn’t seem to matter Thursday as the Bulldogs made the key plays when they needed to.