BYU Softball: Cougars take two from Santa Clara in triumphant return
Welcome back, Cougars.
The BYU softball team played 34 of its first 36 games against the nation’s top competition on the road out of necessity: No one wants to play softball in wintry Provo in February and March.
The Cougars returned home to open West Coast Conference play and took two games from Santa Clara on Friday at Miller Park, winning 8-1 and 13-5.
“I liked how in the first game after that first inning after they scored one, we bounced back and scored a run,” said BYU catcher Libby Sugg, who drove in six runs in the doubleheader. “I came in the dugout and told Kris (starting pitcher Kerisa Viramontes), ‘We’ve got your back. We’re going to score runs and get hits. We just need you to do your job and we’ll do ours.’
“In the second game, I was really proud of our hitting. It was the most hits we’ve had all season, but it was errors that killed us. We could have been out of the game earlier but at least our hitting was there.”
In the first game, BYU broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth. Madison Merrell and Rylee Jensen had RBI singles and Sugg was walked to add a third run for a 4-1 Cougars lead. BYU added four more runs in the fifth. Merrell and Lexi Tarrow both had RBI doubles in the frame as the Cougars took a commanding 8-1 lead after five.
Viramontes allowed six hits and one run in her complete game, striking out 10 while walking two.
BYU jumped on the Broncos early in Game 2, scoring five runs in the first inning. Sugg, Alexa Strid and Bridget Fleener all drove in runs before Santa Clara could record an out. Merrell (sacrifice fly) and Olivia Sanchez (single) also knocked in runs in the inning for a 5-0 lead.
It was a rough outing for the Cougars defensively. BYU committed nine errors and those miscues kept Santa Clara in the game.
Leading 9-2, BYU ran into some trouble in the sixth. Arianna Paulsen relieved Autumn Moffitt, but had control problems. The Cougars also committed two errors in the inning and the Broncos took advantage by scoring three runs to cut the deficit to 9-5. Sanchez took over on the mound and finally got the third out with the bases loaded.
BYU coach Gordon Eakin had a quick discussion with his team about focus heading into the bottom of the sixth.
“I felt like players were carrying bad at-bats into the field to the defense, or we were being nonchalant,” he said. “We had a little talk about that before we came to bat in the last half of the sixth inning, and we responded pretty well. We attacked the ball better than we did the entire game. Sometimes they don’t hear the messages I send, but I think they got that one. They had a little pride and came out and took care of the game.”
Tarrow reached on an infield single and Sugg blasted her eighth homer of the season for an 11-5 advantage. Fleener doubled and Merrill ended the game by the mercy rule at 13-5 with a two-run homer.
The Cougars’ 13 runs and 15 hits against Santa Clara in Game 2 were both season highs.
“We’ll always take wins,” Eakin said. “No matter how we get them, a win is a win. The fact that we battled through the elements and the time changes, and we got two games in on the good side, that’s a positive.”
BYU is the favorite to win its fifth-straight WCC title, but still has work to do. Eakin said the Cougars have been in a funk offensively as of late and recently lost No. 2 pitcher Arissa Paulsen for the season due to injury.
The difficult early schedule should pay benefits during league play.
“We played the best teams in the country, and we put our best effort out there,” Sugg said. “It was a learning experience for us and exactly what we needed to gain confidence for these games. If we can compete against those teams, then we can compete against anyone. Ultimately, our No. 1 goal is to win conference.”
BYU (2-0 WCC, 20-18 overall) and Santa Clara (0-2, 5-26) will play the third game of the series Saturday at 11 a.m., moving first pitch up two hours to beat the storm moving into the Utah Valley.