Utah Utes softball falls behind in Super Regionals after Game 1 loss to San Diego State

The Utes amassed just four hits, the lowest in the last five games.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Abby Dayton beats the throw to third base, in NCAA playoff action between the Utah Utes and the San Diego State Aztecs, on Friday, May 26, 2023.

The Utah Utes softball players weren’t themselves.

They didn’t make jokes or dance. They didn’t play loose. They let the moment get the best of them. They didn’t light up the scoreboard with hit after hit and run after run.

And it cost them.

The Utes lost 4-3 to the San Diego State Aztecs in Game 1 of the best-of-three NCAA Softball Super Regional on Friday at a packed Dumke Family Stadium. It snapped Utah’s nine-game winning streak, and extended San Diego State’s to seven.

“Well, we didn’t play great today, and we’ve been playing really great,” Utes coach Amy Hogue said. “So, bad timing to have a bad day out there.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mariah Lopez pitches for the Utes in NCAA playoff action between the Utah Utes and the San Diego State Aztecs, at Dumke Family Softball Stadium, on Friday, May 26, 2023.

Utah had grown accustomed to relying on their bats when they needed them. In the last five games, they tallied at least 11 hits.

But on Friday night, the Utes couldn’t connect consistently enough. They had only four hits. The last time Utah had single-digit hits was against California on May 11 in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Utes junior pitcher Mariah Lopez threw all seven innings and struck out nine pitchers. She gave up nine hits, two runs and two unearned runs.

Hayley Denning went 2 of 3 at the plate with an RBI. Shelbi Ortiz also batted in a run.

Lopez got herself out of a couple of major jams. In the top of the fourth and fifth innings, the Aztecs had the bases loaded with two outs, threatening to blow the game wide open.

“Those situations, I think I put my team in a sticky position,” Lopez said.

Lopez delivered strikeouts to end each of those innings and gave Utah opportunities to retake the lead. But aside from the bottom of the second, the bats never delivered.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Short stop Karlie Davison, throws to first, in NCAA playoff action between the Utah Utes and the San Diego State Aztecs, on Friday, May 26, 2023.

“Honestly with the amount of runners they had on base, it felt like they were beating us by a whole lot more,” Hogue said. “But kept it close. Mariah did that — nine strikeouts in big moments — and kept giving our hitters a shot. It wasn’t our day.”

The Aztecs left 11 runners on base.

San Diego State took an early 2-0 lead and took advantage of two Utah errors. In the bottom of the second, the Utes scored three runs with help from an RBI from Denning and two Aztecs errors.

“We know that’s Utah’s deal is that they put the ball in play and they create havoc,” San Diego State coach Stacey Nuveman Deniz said. “In that inning that they scored the three runs, that’s what happened.”

The Aztecs took the lead for good in the top of the fourth when AJ Murphy drove in two runs with a double.

The Utes now have to win two consecutive games in order to punch their ticket to Oklahoma City for the College World Series. Game 2 is Saturday at 3 p.m. back at Dumke Family Stadium.

Hogue said that when Utah’s back is against the wall, it tends to perform quite well. Denning said if the Utes get back to their fun-loving, relaxed selves, they’ll be OK.

“I think [Saturday] we’re gonna go back to that and it’s gonna feel natural and we’re just gonna go out there and have fun and compete,” Denning said.