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UTES COME DOWN TO EARTH AGAINST MATADORS

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One night after the University of Utah softball team played a near-perfect game in the Women's College World Series, coach Jo Evans lived through a nightmare Friday.

"I hardly recognized the team in red out there," Evans said after the Utes lost to Cal State Northridge 5-1. "I wondered if Rod Steiger was out there and I was in the `Twilight Zone.' Weird things were happening."Evans cited a pair of ground balls rolling through the legs of two of her usually sure-handed fielders, missed pop ups and an illegal pitch call as some of the strange occurrences.

While the loss doesn't kill the Utes, it does put them on life support. Utah will now have to come through the losers' bracket of the eight-team tournament if it is to win the NCAA title. Of the eight teams, only Arizona and Northridge remain unbeaten. The Utes will next play the winner of the UCLA vs. Illinois-Chicago contest today at 5 p.m. MDT. The seven-time NCAA champion Bruins will meet the Flames at 11 a.m.

For just the second time this season Ute freshman pitching sensation Ali Andrus gave up more than two earned runs in a game. The other time just happened to be in a loss against the hard-hitting Matadors as well. Andrus, who pitched a one-hitter Thursday in Utah's 2-0 win over Oklahoma State, gave up five runs (three earned) on eight hits.

"I felt pretty good about the way I pitched today," said Andrus, who entered the game with a .050 ERA. "They were hitting mostly balls out of the strike zone. They just did a good job of hitting."

The Matadors, who split two games with the Utes in the regular season, took the lead early. In the top of the first inning Jen Fleming hit a double to center which was followed by a home run to right by Beth Calcante. It was all the scoring Northridge would need, but it added a run in the fourth and two more in the sixth - thanks to fielding errors - just in case.

"When Calcante hit the two-run homer in the first inning we needed to just shake it off," Evans said. "We had the whole game left and we we just needed to buckle down and play but we didn't do that."

Utah's offense could never really get going off of Northridge pitcher Kathy Blake, who scattered five hits. Freshman Cyndee Bennett was the only Ute who had Blake's number. Bennett went 3-for-3 with an RBI single in the fourth.

"This was a great game against a great team," said Northridge coach Gary Torgeson. "Utah is a scrappy team. Their pitcher is one of the best in the country. I really respect Utah and I hope they come back all the way through their bracket."

The tournament will continue through Monday, but one more outing like Friday's and the Utes will be heading back to Salt Lake sooner than they hope.

In the other game Friday, Arizona beat Fresno State, 3-0.