Pitcher Mariah Lopez leads Utes softball to win over Ole Miss

Lopez struck out 10 batters in Utah’s 7-1 win.

(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.

Utah Utes softball pitcher Mariah Lopez felt the nerves.

She walked a batter, then hit two others with pitches. The bases were loaded and Ole Miss second baseman Keila Kamoku was far ahead in the count with three balls and no strikes. And this was just in the bottom of the first inning.

But Lopez gathered herself and threw three straight strikes, ending the inning and fueling the rest of a performance that culminated in a 7-1 Utah win over Ole Miss on Saturday. The Utes now have the chance to win the Salt Lake City Regional portion of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at noon against Ole Miss. If the Rebels win the noon game, the Utes will get a second shot.

Lopez pitched all seven innings and tallied 10 strikeouts and two walks against Ole Miss. She allowed six hits and just one run.

“When this one over here gets 10 strikeouts, you play less defense, so thanks for that,” coach Amy Hogue said as she motioned toward Lopez.

Lopez left the mound after only one inning in Friday’s win over Southern Illinois because the offense amassed a big lead. After two relievers gave up nine runs combined, though, the junior had to reenter the game to keep the Salukis at bay.

But Lopez threw every pitch against the Rebels.

“She throws both sides of the plate, has a rise ball — her changeup was probably the pitch I think we struggled with probably the most,” Ole Miss coach Jamie Trachsel said of Lopez.

Utah’s ace pitcher faced 29 batters Saturday compared with 11 on Friday.

Shelbi Ortiz and Aliya Belarde drove in two runs apiece. Left fielder Hayley Denning went 3 of 4.

The offense sparked in the fourth inning when the Utes started being aggressive with their base running. Center fielder Abby Dayton and Denning each stole bases, then scored runs off RBI sacrifice flies from Kendall Lundberg and Shelbi Ortiz. Those gave Utah a 3-1 lead.

In the top of the sixth, Denning stole second after a leadoff single. She and Lundberg advanced on a wild pitch and were driven home by a double that Belarde didn’t hit very hard.

Graduate first baseman Elissa Bonstrom and designated hitter Sophie Jacquez drove in two more runs after that.

Record broken

Bonstrom became Utah softball’s all-time leader in RBIs. She drove in Belarde on a triple in the top of the sixth.

“When I saw the pitch coming in, I knew that that was the pitch that I could do it on,” Bonstrom said. “Happy to break the record. It was a great moment.”

Bonstrom said she knew about the record going into the game. Hogue knew, too, and said there was a point in the game she held a baserunner so Bonstrom could have an opportunity to bat them in.

Bonstrom now has 176 career RBIs. The previous record holder was Cyndee Bennett, who played at Utah from 1994-1997.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Utah would play Baylor on Sunday.