Utah Utes third baseman Julia Jimenez looked the rolling ball into her glove and tapped the nearby third base to record the final out. A split second later, she flung the ball in the air and jumped up and down as she and her teammates met near the pitcher’s circle in jubilation.
The celebration was only just beginning.
Utah advanced to the College World Series behind a 7-2 win over San Diego State on Sunday afternoon in Game 3 of the Super Regionals at Dumke Family Stadium in front of a record 3,083 fans. The Utes are slated to play Washington in Oklahoma City on Thursday.
The last time the Utah softball team advanced to the NCAA Women’s College World Series was in 1994.
That year, the highest grossing movie at the box office was “The Lion King.” The No. 1 song on the Billboard Top 100 at the end of the year was “The Sign” by Ace of Base. Bill Clinton was in his first term as president. O.J. Simpson gripped the world with a high speed chase in his white Ford Bronco.
“It’s been too long,” Utes coach Amy Hogue said.
Junior pitcher Mariah Lopez dumped water on Hogue as she was doing an on-field postgame interview. Later, after the fans had gone home and all the questions had been asked an answered, the Utes went to the school’s swimming and diving facility and jumped in the pool in near unison. Hogue did a solo dive later.
The team jumped in the same pool a week ago when it advanced to the Super Regionals.
But this celebration was different. It meant a little more. And even Hogue wasn’t willing to entertain thoughts of their how deep the Utes could go in the College World Series despite already knowing their first opponent would be fellow Pac-12 school Washington.
“We’ll get to that,” Hogue said. “Today, we’re going to enjoy it.”
Lopez pitched five innings. She struck out six batters, walked three and gave up one earned run. She threw 100 pitches before Sarah Ladd relieved her.
In all, Lopez threw 317 pitches in the series against the Aztecs, garnering immense praise from SDSU coach Stacey Nuveman Deniz.
“She was unbelievable,” Nuveman Deniz said of Lopez. “I don’t know her, but I’m proud of her. She battled her butt off.”
Sophie Jacquez, Abby Dayton and Haley Denning each went 2 of 3. Halle Morris pinch hit and drove in two runs. The Utes as a team tallied 11 hits.
Although Utah gave up the game’s first run, it put together four runs — three of them unearned — in the second inning and never looked back. San Diego State cut Utah’s lead to 4-2 in the fourth, but the Utes answered with a run in the fifth and two in the sixth to seal the victory.
Now the Utes look ahead to Washington, a team that beat them twice in a three-game series in the regular season. However, Utah knocked the Huskies out of the Pac-12 Tournament with an 8-4 victory.
Hayley Denning recalled previous years in her tenure at Utah when the team had no chance of making the postseason, let alone vying for the opportunity at a national championship. And Hogue played on the 1994 team that last made it to the College World Series.
But the 2023 version of the Utes has proved that it belongs among the upper echelon of college softball teams in the country.
“This has been our goal all year, and we knew that we could do it,” Lopez said. “So finally getting here, it’s just an unreal feeling.”