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Three years ago, Utah softball coach Amy Hogue was doing what even the best college coaches must: sitting through an eight-hour softball showcase, looking for talent.

She was there to see Kelly Martinez — an infielder she would later sign — and so were dozens of other coaches. But sometime between that fifth and sixth hour, something occurred to her: There was a skinny outfielder who didn't hit for power, but always seemed to hit.

"Who is that kid? The kid that never gets out?" she asked the girl's coach, Tony Rico. He said it was Alyssa Barrera, a "jewel" on the team, but who wouldn't be a big prospect because she didn't hit home runs.

"I told him, 'I don't care,' " Hogue recalled. " 'If she never gets out, I'm picking her.' And from that moment forward, I just kind of stalked her — I mean, recruited her."

Later that year, Hogue would offer Barrera, a 5-foot-6 Chino Hills, Calif., native who could hit like few prospects she had seen. Barrera would verbally commit as a sophomore, then stick with the Utes despite other Pac-12 and SEC offers that slid her way.

Now in her freshman year at Utah, Barrera is delivering on her promise and more, batting for the third-highest average on the team (.390) and leading the club with 33 runs this season.

In a lineup that includes returning Pac-12 player of the year Hannah Flippen and fellow all-Pac-12 returnee Anissa Urtez, Barrera might be the most frustrating Ute to retire. Her versatility leaves opponents flummoxed.

"She'll get a double in the right-center gap on [a pitch] up and in, then she'll get a double down the left-field line down and out, and then she'll sit on the change-up and hit it right off the pitcher's forehead," Hogue said. "You just don't know how to pitch to her, because she has so many weapons when she's got a bat in her hand. She's dangerous."

To Barrera, it's the only way she knows.

She was taught how to hit by her parents, who played baseball and softball, respectively, in high school. Both of her younger brothers play baseball, with one of them expected to attend Washington on scholarship next year.

She also played for the Firecrackers-Rico club team alongside Martinez, with whom she won a national championship as a senior. During her travel days, she batted against most of the pitchers she now faces in the Pac-12.

"It feels a lot like nationals — the intensity is high, and the fans are into it," Barrera said. "I grew up playing against these girls, so it motivates me even more, like, 'I've played you, I've beaten you before, and I'm going to beat you again.' That's kind of my mentality."

Which isn't to say there isn't room to improve. Barrera said her biggest focus has been to pack on muscle to her frame and hit the ball farther. While Hogue says she has phenomenal bat speed, she would like to improve on the four doubles and one homer she has. Barrera said if she can get stronger, she knows which gaps she can attack in the Utes' home park.

Other parts of her game are already polished. Hogue said Barrera has uncanny balance in the batter's box for a freshman. She also has keen selection: Barrera has struck out three times all season, despite leading the team with 100 at-bats. Even in practice, Barrera sends screamers back to the pitching circle, forcing her teammates to duck.

The Utes have high goals this year, namely reaching the College World Series after coming painfully close at Super Regionals last season.

Big expectations? Bring it on, Barrera said.

"We're getting looked at like we're the real deal; we're not the underdog anymore," she said. "We're going to give you a great game, and we're out there to win. We're creating a legacy of being a winning team that's always going to put up a fight until the last out. I like the fact that this program is getting bigger, and that's what I want." Twitter: @kylegoon —

Barrera brings it

• Freshman outfielder is third in batting average (.390) and on-base percentage (.456).

• Her three strikeouts are fewest among her teammates with at least 70 at-bats.

• Won Pac-12 freshman of the week on Feb. 28 after Mary Nutter Classic.

• Held a career average of .477 at Bishop Amat High School.

Utah vs. Cal

• The Utes will play their second home series at Dumke Family Softball Stadium this weekend against Cal, weather permitting. All three games, Friday-Sunday, are scheduled for noon.