Utes softball freshman Karlie Davison’s double the difference against Southern Illinois in first game of NCAA Tournament

Utah will play Ole Miss on Saturday.

When Utah Utes freshman shortstop Karlie Davison connected on a pitch that brought home the two runs that helped her team survive a back-and-forth game, she looked over at the Utah dugout.

“They were pretty fired up,” Davison said. “I was just glad to be the one in that situation.”

Davison’s double in the bottom of the sixth inning gave Utah an 11-9 lead it didn’t relinquish against Southern Illinois on Friday in its first game of the NCAA Tournament’s Salt Lake City Regional. The Utes will host Ole Miss on Saturday at 1 p.m. Ole Miss beat Baylor 3-0 earlier in the day.

Southern Illinois gave the Utes all they could handle, but Utah had an answer every time.

After just two innings, it looked like Utah would run away with the game and maybe even get to go home early due to the mercy rule. Then the Salukis cut their deficit to just one run in the top of the third.

When the Utes put up three unanswered runs, the Salukis countered with four runs in the top of the sixth and tied the game at 9-9.

Davison’s double was — as used to be said on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” — the final answer.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah infielder Karlie Davison (14) celebrates a home run in the first inning as Utah's softball team faces Southern Illinois in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 19, 2023.

Davison hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the first. She finished the day 3-for-4 with five RBIs and two runs scored. Designated hitter Sophie Jacquez, who didn’t finish last week’s Pac-12 championship game against UCLA due to injury, returned and went 3-for-3 with two RBI.

“I felt great,” Jacquez said of her physical condition. “Running is a little slower, but everything else was good.”

Julia Jimenez also returned to the lineup for the Utes after getting hurt against UCLA. She went 1 of 4 and scored a run.

Utah scored five runs in bottom of the first. Coach Amy Hogue then pulled starting pitcher Mariah Lopez. She said that was planned all along.

“Get a lead, get Mariah out,” Hogue said. “We just said it all day. We said it all day yesterday. We said it the day before. And it’s the right move. Our other kids are going to need to throw innings for us in the postseason.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah pitcher Mariah Lopez (8) as Utah's softball team faces Southern Illinois in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 19, 2023.

Southern Illinois left fielder Rylie Hamilton said she didn’t feel disrespected with Utah pulled its pitcher due to a big lead.

“I like when teams do that because it gives us the opportunity to jump on the next pitcher,” Hamilton said.

The Salukis did exactly that. Utes relievers Sydney Sandez and Sarah Ladd gave up nine runs between them before Lopez reentered the game in the top of the sixth. Lopez came back moments after hit a double off the wall to score two runs and tie the game at 9-9.

Hogue said Sandez and Ladd had some good moments, but they’ll need to be better going forward.

“They didn’t close well enough,” Hogue said. “But they’re fighters. They’ll come back. We have to use them, we have to believe in them. They’ve shown us that they’re worth believing in.”