It knocked pitchers off balance, it kicked up dust in batters’ faces. It made a sunny day suddenly chilly.
But no, the Utes said, the windstorm that hovered over the Salt Lake Valley was not the reason they split Tuesday’s doubleheader with Southern Utah instead of sweeping the T-birds.
After a 12-4 opening win in five innings to start off, the Utah softball team (23-21) was riding high. But that mood, like the weather, soured as the team’s pitching was hammered in a 14-10 game to finish off the afternoon. As bizarre as the conditions were — even delaying the second game for a five-minute spell — the Utes weren’t going to chalk the loss up to Mother Nature.
"I don’t really think that’s a good excuse at all," sophomore pitcher Kayce Nieto said, after winning the first game in the circle, but struggling in the second. "They had a lot of momentum, just defensively and as a pitching staff, we didn’t do a good job of shutting them down today."
It was hard to ask for more after Nieto pitched three scoreless innings in the first game to help cruise to a victory. But she did come in the second contest to try to help clean up for Mariah Ramirez, who gave up five runs in three innings.
Neither one of them had a good answer for a suddenly vibrant lineup from SUU, which notched 19 hits en route to the four-run victory.
Hitting was a strength for the Utes, as it has been through the past few weeks. Hannah Flippen was 6-for-8 with five RBIs in the two games. Three Utah players also hit home runs.
The formula worked early, but faltered late as SUU racked up multiple-run innings in the third, fourth and fifth. Flippen and Kate Dickman kept fanning hope with a two-out rally in the seventh, but it was snuffed by an unceremonious groundout.
While coming out of two doubleheaders in as many days at 3-1 may seem positive, the Utes took a while in the locker room afterward to hash out their defeat. The frustration lies in the defensive consistency, coach Amy Hogue said. Or lack thereof.
"The game of softball brings ups and downs, and you see that all over the country," she said. "But at the end of the day, our hitters do the job we’ve asked them to do, we needed our pitching to step up at the end of the game, and they didn’t."
Southern Utah, which featured 13 players who grew up within an hour’s drive of Salt Lake City, thrived as the day went on. Leading the team was catcher Lyndsey Healey, who was a combined 7-for-8 with six RBIs.
The Utes take a short break after playing seven games in six days before going to Tuscon, Ariz., to face the Arizona Wildcats this weekend.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.