OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma, June 2, 2023 (Gephardt Daily) — The Utes’ first Women’s College World Series appearance in 29 years ended with a double dose of disappointment Friday.
The University of Utah was eliminated from the tournament Friday night in a run-rule shortened 8-0 loss to Oklahoma State in a game that started about 6 1/2 hours after Utah’s 4-1 loss to Washington.
The Utes’ matchup with the Huskies had been scheduled for Thursday night but was delayed by inclement weather, forcing the loser of Friday afternoon’s game to return to USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium on Friday night.
“You won’t hear us complaining or making an excuse,” Utah head coach Amy Hogue said. “It doesn’t feel like it was only one day today; it feels like two. But, yeah, they did hard things today. They didn’t come up on the winning end, but I couldn’t have been more proud.”
Facing the sixth-seeded Cowgirls (45-14) was a difficult task, as the Utes (42-16) quickly found out. Oklahoma State has been regular invitee to the Women’s College World Series, making its fourth consecutive appearance.
The Utes, meanwhile, were making their first appearance in softball’s elite eight since 1994 and only the fifth time in school history.
“We’ve tried so hard our past five years to get here,” senior Haley Denning said following her final game at Utah. “It’s just awesome to be here. We just wanted to try to win for our team, but obviously it sometimes doesn’t happen like that.”
“We knew coming back tonight was going to be a fight,” added Ellessa Bonstrom, a grad student also playing in her final collegiate game. “I mean, this team has a lot of fight in them. This just wasn’t our day.”
The tournament-tested Cowgirls scored two runs in the first and then blew the game open in the second, scoring six runs on six hits and a Utes error to make it 8-0.
Utah managed just three hits for the second consecutive game, including back-to-back singles from Jordyn Gasper and Denning in the fifth inning. The Utes left four runners on base in the run-rule loss.
With Utes ace Mariah Lopez looking on after starting Friday afternoon, Sydney Sandez struggled in her first start since May 19. Sandez (13-6) faced just 11 batters, allowing six runs on five hits while striking out one and walking two before being replaced with no outs in the second inning.
Halle Morris was in the circle the rest of the way for the Utes, allowing another two runs — one on a wild pitch — on three hits while striking out one.
Despite the back-to-back losses in Oklahoma City, Utah completed one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Utes also restored prestige to the program by winning the Pac-12 Conference Tournament, hosting and winning an NCAA Regional and a Super Regional series to advance to the Women’s College World Series after missing the postseason the previous year.
“From the very beginning of this year, we knew that the World Series was our goal,” Bonstrom said. “It started from the very first practice to the very first meeting. I mean, we knew we wanted to end at the World Series. To say that we actually did is honestly a dream come true.
“I’m so proud of this team, just the season we’ve had this year. I mean, we broke so many records. It was such a historic year for us. To be a part of kind of this rebuilding group of seniors, I mean, we didn’t start out great, and we are leaving the program better than what we came into.”
Utah’s four previous WCWS appearances came in 1982, 1985, 1991 and 1994. Hogue was a member of the 1991 and ’94 teams.
“I’m excited for the future Utes because this is going to be a big steppingstone for them,” Bonstrom said. “Like last year, it didn’t go our way, and so I can’t wait to see what the Utes are going to do next year.”