Provo • Asked to explain the BYU softball team’s uneven 2014 season to date, senior pitcher Tori Almond offers just one word.
“Insane,” says the former Bingham High star and two-time 5A MVP and Utah Gatorade Player of the Year.
It is a 17-20 team that defeated No. 2-ranked Tennessee 6-3 on Feb. 27 and current No. 1 Oregon 6-5 on March 25 and played No. 10 Washington, No. 14 Minnesota and No. 22 Stanford tough, yet has lost to the likes of Valparaiso, North Dakota State, Weber State, Chattanooga and Idaho State.
“Our team is a lot better than our record indicates,” Almond said. “We have so much potential, but it is just a matter of bringing it every single day, no matter who we are playing.”
The Cougars did that Tuesday, as Almond and freshmen McKenna Bull and Ashley Thompson combined to no-hit Utah Valley 9-0 in five innings in Orem. The roller-coaster season continues this weekend with a crucial three-game WCC series at Gail Miller Field against Santa Clara.
BYU was on the losing end of a no-hitter to San Diego in the first-ever West Coast Conference softball game Friday, then bounced back to sweep the Toreros 2-1 and 4-3 in a doubleheader Saturday.
It has been enough to drive a coach crazy, Gordon Eakin said, but at least he saw it coming way back in early February when the Cougars began their quest for a sixth-straight conference title (in four leagues) with one of the youngest teams in his 12 years at BYU.
“With youth, my experience tells me that you are always going to have some growth problems,” Eakin said. “I really didn’t expect it to take place against the variance of competition that we have had. We have played some top-25 teams really strong, and maybe lost by a run, or two runs, or in the Oregon case or the Tennessee case, won by a run. And then all of a sudden we will drop off and we will lose to somebody who has a 200 RPI. That I didn’t expect.”
Eakin, a former University of Utah baseball player, has guided the Cougars to nine-straight NCAA Tournament appearances. But that streak will end if BYU doesn’t win the WCC regular-season title (there is no conference tournament) and the automatic berth that goes to the champion.
“We are just trying to be more consistent, because our team has so much talent,” said freshman Sydney Broderick, a rare left-handed catcher from Ashburn, Va., who Eakin said has been one of the bright spots of the season, along with Bull, the freshman pitcher from Weber High. “Some games haven’t gone our way, but that happens to everyone. The important thing is we are getting better every game.”
The Cougars have won seven of nine games since a 1-0 loss at Utah in nine innings preceded the big win over Oregon, and Eakin says his pitching is finally clicking after a rugged start.
Against UVU, he started a freshman catcher (Broderick), a freshman shortstop (Lauren Bell), a freshman second baseman (McKenzie St. Clair), a freshman left fielder (Mercedes O’Connor) and used two freshmen pitchers (Bull and Thompson). Sophomore Gordy Bravo started in right field; Almond, third baseman Ashlee Robinson, center fielder Carly Duckworth and first baseman Katie Manuma are the only seniors who play regularly.
“It is just a matter of getting experience,” Eakin said. “This team can play with anybody.”
A closer look at BYU softball team
After a rocky nonconference performance, the Cougars’ streak of nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances is in jeopardy.
The Cougars beat No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Tennessee in the preseason, but lost to several teams with RPIs in the 200s.
Left-handed freshman catcher Sydney Broderick is the WCC Player of the Week for the second straight week and has been a pleasant surprise.