Julia Jimenez had already swung and missed on two change-ups. The Utah Utes third baseman was staring at a 2-2 count with two outs and the bases loaded. But she told herself there was no way in heck she was striking out.
She demolished the next pitch into left field for a grand slam.
“When the moment gets big, you have to slow down,” Jimenez said. “That’s what I was trying to do.”
At that moment, the rout was on. The Utah softball team found its offense in a big way in a 10-1 mercy rule thrashing of the San Diego State Aztecs in Game 2 of the NCAA Softball Super Regionals on Saturday at Dumke Family Stadium. The winner-take-all Game 3 is Sunday at noon.
Jimenez’s grand slam wasn’t her only one of the season. She hit one on March 4 against Niagara, and another on April 8 against Arizona State.
Jimenez also wasn’t the only player to go yard for the Utes. Shelby Ortiz hit a three-run homer in the fifth. Ellessa Bonstrom hit a two-run bomb in the first, adding to her all-time program-leading RBI total.
Saturday’s game was delayed 30 minutes in the third due to lightning in the area. After the game resumed, Utah scored seven runs.
The Utes vowed Saturday would be different. To that end, they hit like they normally do. After tallying only four hits in a 4-3 loss to the Aztecs on Friday, they had four after two innings on Saturday and ended with 13.
All nine players in the lineup recorded at least one hit. Second baseman Aliya Belarde went 3 of 4, while Ortiz left fielder Hayley Denning each went 2 of 3. Ortiz also had four RBIs, including a double that gave the Utes a 3-1 lead in the top of the third.
Utah also got back to relaxing and having fun like it normally does.
“Breathing is our biggest talent on this team,” Jimenez said. “I think we lost a little bit of it yesterday, but this team has so much grit.”
After the Utes built a 10-1 lead through five and innings, starting pitcher Mariah Lopez left the game and was replaced by reliever Sarah Ladd. Lopez struck out two in four innings and allowed four hits.
Lopez pitched a combined 11 innings in the first two games of the series, after pitching two complete games against Ole Miss. But coach Amy Hogue dismissed the idea that gaining a big lead allowed her starter some rest before Game 3.
“She doesn’t need rest,” Hogue said. “She wants the ball. She’s hungry for it.”
Belarde said it became apparent to the Utes that they’d have a much better hitting game while they were talking in the locker room after Friday’s loss. Something else the team talked about postgame Friday was Utah’s ability to rise to the occasion.
So when asked if anyone on the team was feeling any nerves going into the final game of the series, the game that will decide who heads to Oklahoma City for the College World Series, Jimenez said simply, “No nerves.”
“We play our best game when something’s on the line, when our backs are against the wall,” Belarde added. “That’s just Utah softball. We’re gritty and we like the fight.”