BYU softball eliminated from NCAA Tournament in Tempe Regional final

The Cougars fall to Virginia Tech in run-rule 11-3 loss on Saturday.

(Tyler Tate | AP) BYU infielder Martha Epenesa (center) celebrates with teammates Marissa Chavez (left) and Huntyr Ava (right) after a home run during an NCAA softball game on Friday, April 23, 2021 in Provo. Ava hit a three-run homer in the Tempe Regional final on Saturday, May 22, 2021, but the Cougars fell to Virginia Tech 11-3 in five innings.

BYU started its season in Tempe, Ariz., and ended its season in Tempe on Saturday.

On a day when it seemed as if nothing could go right, the Cougars fell to Virginia Tech a second time in the Tempe Regional — this time by the NCAA’s run rule in five innings, 11-3, in the regional final. BYU had made it to Saturday’s game by winning two elimination games on Friday, but the Hokies proved to be too much to handle.

Associate head coach Pete Meredith said the staff talked about how, after the big emotional win Friday night, the team was going to have to go in strong and attack. But the Cougars fell flat.

“I think the first inning was kind of indicative of that — we struggled to field balls and make plays,” Meredith said. “... We’re not normally that kind of team, but today we just couldn’t put it all together. Got to tip your hat, [Virginia Tech is] a good team.”

The Cougars lost longtime head coach Gordon Eakin in the first inning when he was ejected for his reaction to an obstruction call that put the Hokies up 2-0.

In the bottom of the third, BYU made two pitching changes. Arissa Paulson came in to take over for starter Autumn Koffat-Morth, but was then replaced by Carley Brown after Virginia Tech got its lead up to 7-0.

The Hokies added a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth, giving BYU only three more outs to keep the game alive.

And the Cougars responded.

BYU freshman Violet Zavodnik, who earned West Coast Conference Player and Freshman of the Year honors, hit a double with two outs to give the Cougars two runners. Next up, Huntyr Ava homered to left field to bring in Zavodnik and Erin Miklus.

However, after BYU got the momentum for the first time all game, Virginia Tech responded with a two-run homer, shifting the momentum back to the Hokies.

The Cougars continued to dig into their depth in the bullpen and brought out their fourth pitcher: Reggie Kanagawa.

Virginia Tech’s Alexa Milius homered to center field to still put an end to the game early.

“Obviously, coming out of the bullpen is never an easy job, but I was just trying to give them different looks, trying to see if I could throw them off a little bit,” Meredith said. “But they seemed to dig in and stick to their game plan. ... When you get to this caliber, you’ve got to make them chase and expand. And we just didn’t do that.”