Utah Utes softball third baseman Julia Jimenez flapped her arms before Sunday’s game encouraging the crowd at Dumke Family Stadium to get on their feet and get loud.
Then before the bottom of the sixth inning, the same capacity crowd started doing the wave and cheering. With the Utes just one out away from victory, they all stood up and chanted, “U-T-A-H” and “Let’s go, Utah!”
That’s the kind of atmosphere the Utes enjoyed all weekend as they went undefeated to win the Salt Lake City Regional portion of the NCAA Tournament. They beat Ole Miss 4-1 Sunday in a rematch of Saturday’s game to advance to the Super Regionals.
“They were cheering the whole time,” Utes junior pitcher Mariah Lopez said. “It was really keeping us up and wanting to do it not only for our team and our coaches, but for the fans.”
Utah will host the Super Regional for the first time in program history next weekend as well because UCLA lost in its regional. The Utes will face San Diego State in a three-game series, and get the same type of home-field advantage.
“We have our routines we get to do, we get our people here doing that shouting and we get more rest,” Utah coach Amy Hogue said. “We travel a lot and we’re good at it, and we would have been fine. But to have the extra hours to not have to get on an airplane yet is huge for this group.”
Lopez pitched all seven for the second consecutive day. She struck out five batters and walked three.
Freshman shortstop Karlie Davison hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the second and went 1 of 2 overall. Aliya Belarde and Kendall Lundberg each had one RBI. Belarde went 2 of 4 for the afternoon.
Davison’s homer came on a 1-2 pitch down and in — the exact same pitch from Ole Miss sophomore ace Catelyn Riley that struck her out twice on Saturday.
“I wasn’t going to let them get me out on that same pitch again,” Davison said.
Utah needed more defense than it did Saturday. Hogue said she knew Lopez wouldn’t get 10 strikeouts again, and predicted it’d be cut down by about half. The team’s fielding came through, forcing an 0-of-5 mark by Ole Miss with runners in scoring position.
“Our defense, especially early in this game, said, ‘There’s no way you’re doing this,’” Hogue said.
Several players on the Utes watched No. 2 UCLA lose to Liberty on Saturday night. Once the upset was official, it gave them a little extra motivation and focus to put Ole Miss away.
“Going into today, no matter what it took, we knew we needed to win this game because we knew how important it was,” Lopez said.
Ole Miss coach Jamie Trachsel praised Utah’s ability to win in multiple ways and gave a prediction of sorts for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.
“They can bleed you kind of to death,” Trachsel said of the Utes. “Feels sometimes like death by paper cut a little bit because they’re dynamic. ... They’re really well balanced. I think they have a shot to get to Oklahoma City and I think they have a shot to win games there, too.”
Hogue is looking forward to another weekend at Utah’s home field.
“I’d love anybody to come here and play this team right now because we’re playing great,” Hogue said.