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Kragthorpe: Utes enjoy beating BYU, but advancing to Super Regionals is bigger

First Published      Last Updated Jun 02 2017 10:53 pm


Hailey Hilburn produced another walk-off moment in a Utah-BYU softball game Saturday, only this ending was considerably less dramatic.

The Ute relief pitcher delivered a called third strike to end a 14-0 victory in six innings, about 25 hours after her run-scoring single in the bottom of the seventh inning gave Utah a 3-2 win in an NCAA regional tournament at Dumke Family Softball Stadium.

The ensuing celebrations looked a lot alike. After mobbing Hilburn at first base Friday, the Utes bounced and danced in the pitching circle Saturday to commemorate another trip to the Super Regionals — likely vs. Washington in a best-of-three series in Seattle.




That's the softball equivalent of the Sweet 16, giving this installment of the rivalry possibly the highest stakes for both teams that ever framed a Utah-BYU meeting in any sport. The rivalry context also made the 14-0 score "sting a little more," said BYU's Lexi Tarrow.

The Utes were not claiming any extra satisfaction, partly because they're mostly Californians who didn't grow up in the rivalry. "We don't care who we're playing," said second baseman Hannah Flippen. "It's just another team over there. But I think it helped bring a lot of fans here, and the atmosphere was great."

The Utah fans who packed the stands and most of the outfield berm on a sunny, 65-degree afternoon enjoyed every bit of the mercy-rule event, although they probably wouldn't have minded staying for another inning

The trade-off was savoring a football-style score — matching the outcome of the rivalry's football installment of 80 years ago.

"I thought [Friday] was the best day of my life," said Ute coach Amy Hogue, happy to have topped that feeling and also pleased to have rewarded friends who sent her text messages wishing for a little less agonizing Saturday.

The Utes came through in every respect, scoring in all but the fifth inning and punctuating the win with eight runs in the sixth. Utah shortstop Anissa Urtez drove in five runs and BYU pitcher McKenna Bull's phenomenal career ended ingloriously with a third-inning exit.

Hogue, herself a former Ute second baseman, never downplays the rivalry, but she endorses her team's approach of viewing nameless opponents. That's good strategy, for a program that once was overwhelmed by Pac-12 competition. The Utes have come a long way in five years, from a 2-22 conference record in their first season of membership.

Saturday's advancement was another reminder of what Ute athletic director Chris Hill always says: If you're in the top tier of the Pac-12 in any sport, you're relevant nationally.

That explains how the Pac-12's fifth-place team overwhelmed the West Coast Conference champions. There's danger of exaggerating this angle, considering how BYU took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning Friday, but the Utes were in a different league Saturday.

The Cougars needed two wins to claim the double-elimination regional title, but they fell behind early and couldn't come close to forcing another game.

The Utes were relentless, and BYU could blame Washington for creating such a monster. The Huskies spoiled Utah's Senior Day last weekend with a 13-12 victory, after trailing 12-1. That's why the Utes were determined to keep their offense and defense humming Saturday, while giving their seniors a proper send-off at Dumke.

And they'll probably get another shot at Washington, with the Huskies concluding their regional event Sunday. After being swept last weekend, the Utes will welcome a chance to redeem themselves in Seattle.

Yet just as in this weekend's episode, the potential reward is bigger than beating a certain opponent. The Women's College World Series is in sight for Utah, after BYU became just another checkpoint on the way to Oklahoma City.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

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