Softball reaches NCAA tournament, baseball struggles down the stretch

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BYU softball won its 10th-straight conference title and made its 14th-consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, while BYU baseball finished in last place in the West Coast Conference with a record of 22-28 (11-16 in WCC play).

Josh Ellis
BYU softball players dab before taking the field on May 1, 2018. (Josh Ellis)

Softball

The Cougars opened the year with a non-conference schedule that featured 10 games against Top 25 teams and trips to Seattle, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Arizona and Louisiana.

BYU’s best win came when the Cougars took down No. 13/14 Baylor 3-1 in the LSU Round Robin tournament behind home runs from Caitlyn Alldredge and Madison Merrell.

In WCC play, BYU opened with a sweep of Santa Clara at home.

After an 11-0 win at crosstown rival UVU, the Cougars were upset by Pacific 2-0 in the first game of the series.

BYU bounced back with back-to-back wins over the Tigers and a 5-2 win over rival Utah.

The Cougars won their next six conferences games, setting up a final series with LMU to determine the conference champion.

The Lions also lost one game to Pacific, sending both teams to the final series with identical records.

After Friday’s game was postponed due to heavy rain, BYU took the first two games of the scheduled tripleheader to win the conference crown.

“All our championships are hard-earned,” said BYU coach Gordon Eakin. “I’ve never been involved in one that’s been easy. I thought we prepared really well … for LMU. We remained calm — even in the first game when we were down.”

The win also gave BYU the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

Rylee Jensen was named WCC Player of the Year, Kerisa Viramontes was named Co-Pitcher of the Year and Bridget Fleener was named Freshman of the Year.

Jensen started in all 14 conference games, hitting .474. She led the conference with 18 runs scored and 11 walks and had a team-high 18 hits.

Viramontes had a conference-best nine wins and two shutouts, finishing with a 1.37 ERA and 43 strikeouts.

Fleener led the conference with a .500 batting average and a .765 slugging percentage.

Jensen and Fleener were joined by Libby Sugg and Lexi Tarrow on the All-WCC First Team while Viramontes was joined by Alexa Strid and Autumn Moffat on the All-WCC Second Team.

The Cougars were sent to the Eugene Regional, hosted by overall No. 1 seed Oregon, and were joined by Drake and Albany.

In the first game of the regional, BYU lost 3-2 to Drake.

The Cougars led twice in the game before an RBI single in the fifth inning tied the game and Drake took its first lead on an RBI walk in the sixth.

In an elimination game, BYU easily took care of Albany 16-0 before being eliminated by Drake in a 3-0 loss.

Sugg, Brooke Vander Heide and Briielle Breland were later named to the Eugene All-Regional Team.

“We gave a good, solid effort in the first game against UAlbany, and Drake was just a better team in the second, so it was bittersweet,” Eakin said. “I’m proud of my team for the fight they had this year. They showed a lot of character, and we have nothing to hang our heads about.”

Josh Ellis
Nate Favero hits the ball against UVU on March 13, 2018. (Josh Ellis)

Baseball

BYU baseball opened by winning five of its first seven games before being swept by No. 18 Auburn.

The team then returned home to debut the new artificial playing surface at Miller Park and swept Nebraska-Omaha.

In conference play, the Cougars were swept by LMU before taking two-of-three from Gonzaga.

After losing two to Pepperdine, BYU responded with a sweep of Santa Clara before losing seven of its next nine conference games.

The Cougars needed to win out from that point to be in contention for the conference tournament, and they won their next two against San Francisco.

However, the Dons took the series finale, and Pacific came to Provo and won the final two games of the season to end BYU’s hopes of defending its WCC tournament title.

Juniors Brock Hale and Jordan Wood were named to the All-WCC First Team following the end of the regular season.

Hale led the Cougars with a .342 batting average and 67 hits while Wood went 5-4 with a 2.66 ERA this season.

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