Utes rout Aztecs to tie Super Regional series, set up Sunday showdown

Photo: University of Utah Athletics

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, May 27, 2023 (Gephardt Daily) — The University of Utah is one win from its first trip to the Women’s College World Series since 1994.

Utah shook off a subpar offensive outing in the series opener late Friday night with a barrage of home runs Saturday afternoon to rout San Diego State 10-1 and even the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional series at 1-1.

The Utes (41-14) and Aztecs (39-16) meet again at noon Sunday with the winner advancing to the Women’s College World Series, which gets underway Thursday, June 1, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Another record crowd (2,925) at Utah’s Dumke Family Softball Stadium was treated to three Utes home runs Saturday — a two-run shot from Ellessa Bonstrom in the first, a grand slam from Julia Jimenez in the fourth and a three-run homer from Shelbi Ortiz in the fifth and final inning in a game interrupted by lightning and shortened by the college softball mercy rule.

“What a team win,” said Utes head coach Amy Hogue, who captained the last Utah team to reach the Women’s College World Series in 1994. “[I’m] really proud of this group and how they recovered, and how they came back after a little delay that we had [after the second inning] and run off seven more runs. I really wish we could play that last game right now, but we’ll get some rest and come back [Sunday].”

Despite throwing 145 pitches in a complete-game 4-3 loss late Friday night, Utah ace Mariah Lopez was back in the circle Saturday afternoon, showing no signs of fatigue, and she’ll likely be there again Sunday.

It was a shorter than typical outing for Lopez (22-6), who allowed just one run on four hits while striking out two and issuing no walks before giving way to Sarah Ladd to pitch the fifth inning and close out the victory.

“She doesn’t need rest; she wants the ball,” Hogue said, noting the Aztecs are a good matchup for Lopez. “She would go the full weekend if we needed her to. … We’re so confident in everyone we’ve got, but she’s been leading us, the matchup’s good, and she’s getting stronger — especially when our team’s hitting for her.”

Bonstrom got the deep-ball party started with a home run in the first inning, scoring Aliya Belarde and rounding the bases to give the Utes an early 2-0 lead.

Haley Denning singled in the second and later rounded home on an RBI double from Ortiz to give the Utes a 3-1 advantage before lightning in the area stopped play for about 40 minutes.

The Utes pulled away in the fourth inning on Jimenez’s two-out grand slam to left-centerfield, scoring Bonstrom, Belarde and Jordyn Gasper and increasing the lead to 7-1. It was the third grand slam of the season for Jimenez, a senior from Fontana, California.

“When the moment gets big, you have to slow down,” she said, “and that’s what I was trying to do.”

Ortiz wrapped up her 2-for-3, four-RBI performance with a three-run shot to right field in the fifth, bringing home Kendall Lundberg and Denning as the Utes scored 10 or more runs for the seventh time this season.

The Utes finished with 13 hits in the victory, with every batter who stepped to the plate getting at least one hit. Utah also turned in an error-free game after allowing two runs on errors in Friday night’s loss.

“The most important thing that they do is go and have fun playing the game that they love and support each other,” Hogue said of her team. “Every single kid in my lineup got a hit today, and when we do that kind of stuff, there’s just no end to it. … So I’m really proud of what they did.”


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