BYU wasn’t ready to see its softball season come to an end — so it didn’t. The Cougars were able to survive two consecutive elimination games on Friday to advance to the Regional Final on Saturday in Tempe.
First, BYU sent Southern Illinois packing by beating the Salukis 7-2 and later eliminated No. 15 Arizona State, 9-8. The Sun Devils are the first national seed to be eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m still in my emotions, so I can’t really gather my thoughts,” BYU first baseman Huntyr Ava said following the Arizona State win. “But man, this game was so much fun. Especially having it go back and forth, our energy was so high and I’m just so happy we came out with the [win].”
The Cougars will face Virginia Tech in the Tempe Regional final at 4 p.m. Saturday. In order to advance to the Super Regionals, BYU will need to beat the Hokies twice.
Virginia Tech beat BYU 5-3 on Thursday to send the Cougars to the elimination bracket.
Should BYU advance, it’ll be the Cougars’ first trip to the Super Regionals since their first and only time in 2010.
Back in February, BYU started its season with a pair of games at Arizona State. The Cougars lost both outings, but was able to put up a bigger fight the second day and take the Sun Devils to extra innings.
BYU coach Gordon Eakin believes playing Arizona State, along with playing such a strong nonconference schedule, helped his team to be successful on Friday.
“We played a very top-level schedule at their place over and over and over again through the first 30 games of the season and that definitely battle-tested us and got us ready for today,” Eakin said.
In the first game Friday, the Cougars put up a complete game with efficient pitching and batting to send the Salukis packing.
The Cougars’ bats struggled in Thursday’s regional opener against Virginia Tech, but that wasn’t the case this time around — in either game.
BYU tallied a total of 22 hits between the games. Violet Zavodnik, the West Coast Conference Freshman and Player of the Year, led the Cougars with a solo homer, double and two RBIs against SIU and two RBIs off three singles against Arizona State.
In the circle, Autumn Moffat-Korth started in both games, but was replaced by Arissa Paulson early in the second game of the day.
Throughout the day, the game plan in both games was to be aggressive.
“That’s what we push as a program — that we go out there playing to win, we don’t play not to lose,” Eakin said. “We don’t play passively. We play aggressively, and we make them make the plays to beat us instead of not daring to make the plays. I thought our kids did that all day long. We just took the game to the opponent and it was a lot of fun for sure. A lot of fun softball today.”
Arizona State seemed to get full momentum when, in the top of the fifth, the Sun Devils were able to score two runs on a wild pitch to capture the lead. However, the Cougars put together a four-run sixth inning to regain the lead and hold on for the win.
“I think we knew it was going to be a battle right to the end,” Eakin said. “I didn’t see any ejection when we lost the lead, I didn’t see any quit — I think we all knew that we were going to take it right to the end. ... I don’t know why I knew it was going to be a slugfest because they hit the ball well.”