Utah Utes softball now facing elimination in NCAA Championship tournament

The Utes stumbled in the opening game of the regional, losing to South Carolina.

(Ben McKeown | AP) Utah's Mariah Lopez (8) pitches during an NCAA college softball game against South Carolina on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Durham, N.C.

The Utah Utes softball team hasn’t been scoring very much lately.

Against Stanford last week, the Utes won a 2-1 game. The next day, they lost a 2-1 game.

On Friday, in the first round of the NCAA Championship regionals, a lack of scoring bit Utah again.

The Utes lost to South Carolina, 2-1, in Durham, N.C. They’ll play an elimination game Saturday at 11:30 a.m. MDT against Morgan State, which lost 6-1 to No. 10 Duke on Friday.

“We didn’t play our best today,” coach Amy Hogue said. “We were prepared, and yet had some second guessing and some uncomfortable at-bats. They carried too far into the game. Before you know it, we were running out of outs.

“Pretty disappointing to come out Day 1 that flat.”

Utah pitcher Mariah Lopez threw six innings and struck out eight batters. She allowed four hits and two earned runs.

“Mariah threw well enough to win this game and the last one we played,” Hogue said. “Our hitters aren’t finding a way to make those adjustments.”

Utah’s best hitter of the afternoon was Aliya Belarde, who went 2-for-4. Abby Dayton went 1-for-2 and drove in the team’s lone run.

Dayton’s two-out double in the top of the third inning gave the Utes their first run of the game and a 1-0 lead. South Carolina answered when Jen Cummings hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third. Aniyah Black followed that with an RBI single, giving the Gamecocks a 2-1 lead.

South Carolina pitcher Alana Vawter threw seven innings and also allowed four hits, but just one earned run. She struck out two and walked four.

Dayton said Utah’s struggles at the plate had nothing to do with Vawter’s pitching.

“I think it was just ourselves,” Dayton said. “We were in our heads a lot. I don’t think there is a pitcher out there that can keep this offense from hitting.”

The Utes are now facing elimination with every game they play from here on out. Dayton sounded confident in the team’s ability to move forward and still make a run in the tournament.

“I think our team is really good with our backs against the wall,” Dayton said. “We come out stronger when we lose for sure. I feel like, at this point, we have nothing to lose. We’re going to come out guns blazing.”