Utah softball coach Mona Stevens said the Utes really turned the corner in winning the Mountain West Conference tournament. Confidence, hitting and pitching are at a high as the team enters this week's NCAA regional at Stanford.

"If we show up like we did last week, we'll be right up there with everybody," Stevens said. "All we need to do is maintain where we've been."

Utah (23-31) earned its second trip in three years to the 64-team NCAA competition by stringing together victories over UNLV (1-0), Colorado State (2-1) and San Diego State (3-0) last weekend in Fort Collins, Colo. Sophomore pitcher Brianna Gourdin (18-7) netted most valuable player honors by allowing just eight hits in 21 innings of work.

"Brianna threw as well as she ever has and as well as she's capable of," said Stevens, who credited the former Timpview High star for keeping Utah loose throughout the competition.

The right-hander, who is no longer troubled by shin splints, joined Utah sluggers Jackie Wong, Glennis Donnelly and Kate Nygaard on the all-tournament team. The three were responsible for all of the Utes' run production in the championship game against the Aztecs. The victory secured the league's automatic berth in the regionals. It proved to be the only invitation the MWC would earn this year.

Utah is the lowest seed in the eight-team Palo Alto, Calif., regional that features host Stanford, Auburn, Fresno State, Pacific, Southern Mississippi, Southern Illinois and Hofstra. The Utes face the Cardinal, who are ranked eighth in the nation, in Thursday's late game. The double-elimination tourney continues through Sunday.

"We feel like it's going to be quite a regional," Stevens said. "Don't count us out."

Utah defeated fourth-seed Pacific 4-3 in Salt Lake City on April 23 and dropped a 3-2 decision at third-seed Fresno State on March 13.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com