BYU softball faced its hardest test of the season last weekend, playing three top-ranked teams and coming home with a 2-3 record at the Cathedral City Classic in Palm Springs, Calif.
Prior to the Cathedral City Classic, the BYU softball team faced two ranked teams in No. 11 Oregon and No. 14 Texas A&M, and beat both of them. This weekend, the team had its hands full with three more ranked teams in No. 1 Florida and No. 21 Oklahoma State, while also playing No. 14 Texas A&M for the second time this season. All three teams proved to be too much for the Cougars, who lost in hard fought matches to each team.
The tournament started Thursday against Oklahoma State. BYU stayed close throughout the game with tough defense and pitching. Starting pitcher Hannah Howell threw five innings giving up only two runs on five hits. The Cougar bats couldn’t make up the difference and gave up its first loss of the tournament to the Cowgirls, 3-2.
Head coach Gordon Eakin said he was disappointed with how the girls came out for the first game.
“In the first game that we lost to Oklahoma State, I just don’t think we came out with a competitive fight,” Eakin said. “As a coach, I was disappointed with our approach to the game and our inability to come out and compete.”
BYU faced Pacific for the second game, who had beat Oklahoma State earlier in the day, 5-0. The Cougars fell behind early, 2-0. The Pacific lead wouldn’t hold, however, as multiple Cougar batters stepped up to the plate to earn the win. As a team, the Cougars didn’t give up a single strikeout to the Tiger pitchers. Junior pitcher Hannah Howell also picked up her fourth win, closing it out for starter Tori Almond, who only gave up two runs on four hits for the Cougars.
Day 2 of the classic proved to be even harder for the Cougars, as they faced No. 1 Florida and No. 14 Texas A&M.
The Cougars failed to convert with runners in scoring position, falling to Florida 3-0 in the first game. All three BYU pitchers made an appearance in the game, combining to hold the first four batters on the lineup to 1-for-11. However, a solo home run in the first inning, along with a two-run home run in the fourth, sealed the win for the Gators.
Eakin said he felt his team competed much better in the game against Florida.
“I thought we competed really well and really hard,” Eakin said. “We lost to a team that’s farther along right now but we fought hard.”
Following its loss to Florida, BYU came out strong against Texas A&M, who the Cougars beat earlier in the year, 3-2. Even with a solo home run by Manuma and a seventh-inning grand slam by Stacie Toney to tie up the game, BYU couldn’t hold Texas A&M in extra innings. Pitching and defense became the team’s downfall as the Aggies tacked on six runs in the top of the eighth, in huge part to Mel Duzemich’s second grand slam of the game, to beat BYU 14-8.
Pitching coach Vaughn Alvey said the key for his pitchers the rest of the season is consistency.
“We’re doing fine, we just need to be more consistent,” Alvey said. “That seems to be our problem right now. We need to stay focused throughout every game and not just for some.”
The Cougars were able to finish the tournament on a positive note, beating LIU Brooklyn 11-4. Everyone on the team contributed at the plate to finish the night with 15 hits. Senior Delaney Willard went 4-for-5 with four RBIs, while senior Stacie Toney went 2-for-3 with an RBI of her own. Junior JC Clayton led the team in runs scored with three, while also adding two hits and a stolen base to her stats for the night.
Clayton said she feels a lot of responsibility as the lead off batter for the Cougars. As a slapper, it is her job to get on base for the power hitters in the middle of the lineup.
“One of the most important things for me to do as a lead off batter is to try to get the game started and try to work the pitcher to see what they throw, and then bring that information back to the team,” Clayton said. “As a slapper, our on base percentage is a lot more important than our batting average and everything else we keep track of.”
Freshman pitcher Caroline Umphlett walked away with her fifth win of the season, only giving up one run on one hit.
The BYU softball team, now 9-6, will travel to San Diego on Thursday for its fourth preseason tournament of the year, and then return home on March 7 to play Utah at Ute Softball Field.