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The Utes now have two chances to get one more huge win.
One victory on its home field will push the Utah softball team through to the NCAA Super Regional. Utah put itself in the driver's seat with a seventh-inning rally that culminated with a walk-off pinch-hit single by Hailey Hilburn to beat archrival BYU, 3-2, in the winner's bracket of the Salt Lake City Regional at Dumke Family Softball Stadium on Friday afternoon.
The Utes (35-14) will face BYU (46-12) again at 2 p.m. Saturday, but BYU must beat the Utes twice to advance out of the region. BYU, which advanced with a win in the losers' bracket, won the regular-season game against Utah by one run. Now they'll clash with one team moving on in the postseason and the other's season ending.
"Well, there are some good hitters in this regional, and I call the pitches, right? So I can't go past that next pitch on that next hitter," Utes coach Amy Hogue said. "Our team is trying to do that too. It'll be hard to keep them pitch-to-pitch, but we get prepared so well by playing in the conference that we play in that every weekend it's like a regional for us.
"We've played in settings like this. We've played with intensity like this. We've played against good teams like this all year. I think they're really prepared. It's nothing new. It's just another game for us, and it's a lot of fun."
The Utes trailed the West Coast Conference champion Cougars, 2-1, headed into the seventh inning. BYU (45-12) put itself in a situation to tack on insurance runs in the top of the inning, However, the Cougars stranded two runners in their final at-bat.
Stranded runners were an unfortunate trend for BYU, which collected seven hits and six walks, but left 11 runners. That number 11 runners left on base prompted Cougars coach Gordon Eakin to say he thought his team had outplayed the Utes.
Utah's Bridget Castro (2-for-3) started the seventh off with a single ripped into left field off of Cougars star pitcher McKenna Bull. Heather Bowen, the next batter, ripped an RBI double down the left-field line to tie the game. After a ground out, Hogue opted to pinch hit for Delilah Pacheco with Hilburn.
"They had two hits within three pitches in that last inning," Eakin said. "A lot of that credit goes to Castro and Bowen. Castro put a nice swing on the ball and hit the ball hard, and Bowen came up with a huge hit. A lot of credit to them. I don't know if they hit good pitches we'll have to review film or if McKenna left it over the plate.
"I don't think that game for us was lost in the seventh inning. I think the game for us was lost throughout leaving 11 runners on base," he added. "Utah just rose to the occasion in the seventh inning the way they've done many times this year and got the job done."
Hilburn, a sophomore, came into the regional batting .130 in 14 games (seven starts). With the winning run on third base, Hilburn smacked a pitch from McKenna in the air to shallow center field. It dropped just a few feet in front of Cougars center fielder Brooke Vander Heide, who had made a spectacular diving catch the day before against Mississippi State. Not this time.
Hilburn, who has been called upon to pinch hit throughout the season, went to the plate with one goal get the ball in play and have it land somewhere on the outfield grass as opposed to somewhere on the infield dirt.
"I'm not going to lie, I thought it was hanging for a little longer than I wanted it to, but then when I saw it starting to come down it came straight down," Hilburn said.
BYU 12, Fordham 1 • BYU clobbered Fordham in a run-rule shortened elimination game on Friday evening. BYU jumped on Fordham (45-16) early with three runs in the first inning and continued to pile on with an eight-run third inning which featured six hits, including a mammoth Libby Sugg two-run home run over the left-field wall.
Sugg went 3-for-3 with four RBIs, three runs scored, two doubles and a home run, while Ashley Thompson went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. Briielle Breland, Brooke Vader Head, Lauren Bell, Lexi Tarrow and Sugg drove in runs in the third inning.
The Cougars started freshman pitcher Arissa Paulson and rested McKenna Bull. Paulson allowed one run on three hits and one walk, and she struck out four in her first NCAA regional appearance.
Fordham 9, Mississippi State 3 • Fordham, the Atlantic-10 Conference champions, staved off elimination with a 9-3 win over Mississippi State in the second game of the day. Fordham scored four runs in the third inning and took a 4-1 lead, then tacked on another four runs in the fourth inning as well as one in the sixth. Mississippi State (36-22) plated two in the bottom of the sixth to avoid the game being stopped early.
Fordham hitters Skylar Johnston (three hits, RBI) and Amy Van Hoven (three hits, double, RBI) led the way, while slugger Madi Shaw set new program single-season record for runs batted with an RBI single in the sixth which bumped her total to 74 RBIs this year.
R Utah rallies to score two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat rival BYU in the winners' bracket of the NCAA Salt Lake City Regional at Dumke Family Softball Stadium.
• Sophomore Hailey Hilburn comes through with a pinch-hit walk-off RBI single to give the Utes the win and put them one win away from advancing to the Super Regional.
• BYU strands 11 base runners in a close, low-scoring game that it led going into the final inning.