University Beat: State's women's softball teams face big tests this week
Forget the preseason. All the positive results that the state's collegiate women's softball programs compiled prior to the start of the respective conference seasons mean nothing.
This week, the four of the six Division I programs in Utah face daunting challenges in an effort to turn around early-season conference stumbles. Meanwhile, Utah State and Weber State hope to build on new successes after struggling in the preseason.
Utah jumped quickly out of the gate this season, only to get swept at then No. 3 Washington in its Pac-12 opener.
It is not an easy week for the Utes (23-8, 0-3), who lost 7-3 to No. 16 Hawaii on Tuesday in a nonconference game, and meet top-ranked California (31-1, 4-0) this weekend at Ute Softball Field. Utah's conference home opener is scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m. They will also play Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at noon.
Hawaii (29-3, 5-1 WAC) is the only team that has beaten Cal.
Utah State needs a successful three-game road trip at Fresno State on Friday and Saturday to move up among the WAC leaders. The Aggies (10-22, 2-4) used a shutout by Mandy Harmon to hand Nevada a 4-0 loss Saturday. It was the junior's second complete game shutout of the season as she held Nevada to a pair of hits.
Despite its 13-20 overall record, Weber State's softball program, now in its third season, has continued to improve under Tina Johnson. The Wildcats won only two games in their first year of existence, then improved to 12 victories and a 3-17 record in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference (PCSC) in 2011.
Weber State, sitting at 2-2 in conference, will make its PCSC home debut Friday against Seattle, with the first pitch against the Redhawks (10-17, 3-1) set for 2 p.m. at Wildcat Softball Field.
Utah Valley (20-10, 1-3) also faces an important PCSC series, with back-to-back doubleheaders Friday and Saturday at noon against Northern Colorado (17-17, 2-2). The Wolverines, in the midst of a 12-game homestand at Wolverine Field, also host Utah State on Tuesday at 4 p.m and Hawaii on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Down in Cedar City, the Southern Utah softball team is fighting for a spot in the Summit League postseason tournament. The top four teams qualify, and the Thunderbirds (20-16, 8-4) are in fourth place with a slim two-game cushion over fifth-place South Dakota.
Mikkel Griffin's three homers Saturday sparked the Thunderbirds to a 9-6 victory against UMKC. SUU, which lost a doubleheader Tuesday at BYU, can't afford a stumble as it travels to struggling IUPUI (10-22, 2-7) for a three-game series Friday and Saturday.
BYU continues the Hawaii theme this week. The Cougars (23-10, 3-2) will see just how good they as the Rainbow Warriors stop in Provo for a three-game series starting Friday at 6 p.m. The two teams will play a doubleheader Saturday at Gail Miller Field starting at 1:30 p.m.