College softball: BYU beats Northwestern 7-2 in NCAA opener
Seattle • David scored another impressive victory over Goliath on Friday in the opening round of the NCAA Division I softball tournament.
Diminutive BYU right fielder Gordy Bravo broke up a scoreless game with a run-scoring single to ignite a five-run fifth inning in BYU's 7-2 triumph over a veteran Northwestern squad that dwarfed the young Cougars in size.
The 5-foot-2 Bravo lashed a high fastball to left-center to plate former Olympus High School star Carly Duckworth, who led off the fifth with a well-placed bunt single. Mercedes O'Connor, one of five freshmen in BYU's starting lineup, capped the fifth-inning outburst with a two-run double to deep left.
The West Coast Conference champions from BYU improved to 34-21 by winning their 16th straight game. Northwestern, the suburban Chicago squad that finished fifth in the Big Ten Conference, fell to 33-17.
The Cougars advance to Saturday's title game at the Seattle Regional if they win Friday at 2 p.m. against host Washington. An afternoon loss Friday would force BYU to play a loser-out game at 7 p.m. at Husky Softball Stadium.
Washington (34-13), the No. 12 seed in the 64-team NCAA tournament, defeated Iona (24-23) 8-0. The game was called in the sixth inning due to the eight-run rule.
Bravo, a high-energy, ever-smiling sophomore from Corona, Calif., has quickly emerged as a team leader. However, longtime BYU coach Gordon Eakin admits Bravo's lack of size worried him when recruiting her.
"It did," Eakin said with a smile, "before she sat in my office and told me I was taking her. I liked every bit about that 5-2 kid."
"People didn't believe I can play at this level," recalled Bravo, a .322 hitter who batted third Thursday. "But he [Eakin] gave me a chance, and I'm thankful for it."
Back at ya, kid.
"There's a lot of fight in that 5-2 frame," Eakin said. "She doesn't get intimidated. She's a money player."
The Wildcats, one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country, collected just four hits off Tori Almond and McKenna Bull. Almond (11-6), a senior out of Bingham High, earned the win. Bull, a freshman from Weber High, threw 2 1/3 innings of no-hit relief for her seventh save.
"I think we didn't make adjustments fast enough (at the plate)," said Northwestern star Emily Allard, who chased Almond with a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth. "Give credit to their pitchers. They made some really big pitches."
BYU 7, Northwestern 2
O BYU broke up a scoreless game by scoring five runs in the top of the fifth inning.
• The Cougars gained momentum in the bottom of the fourth when second baseman McKenzie St. Clair and center fielder Carly Duckworth made brilliant diving plays in the field.
• Northwestern came into the day ranked among the national leaders with a .332 team batting average and 6.6 runs per game.