PROVO — Utah softball (16-32) hasn't had an easy go as of late, making Wednesday's seven-inning 11-2 win over BYU (24-21) perhaps sweeter than otherwise. A quick start out of the gate aided by a trio of three-run innings played a big role, along with a dominating pitching performance from freshman Sydney Sandez that was key in coming away from Provo with a win.
"It's always fun and a big deal for us to beat BYU," said Utah senior Ally Dickman. "We haven't had a lot of wins here of late, but we're fighters. Our record may not show it, but this team has a lot of fight and you saw that tonight."
A lot of pop, too, as evidenced by a big first inning.
Dickman led off the scoring, and indeed the tone of the game, roping a pitch over the fence in left-center field to give the Utes a quick 1-0 lead. Alyssa Barrera then followed it up with a two-run home run over the center field fence to extend the lead to 3-0 before the Cougars even came to bat.
"It's been a while since we've started with a lead like that, so yeah, that was a lot of fun," said Utah coach Amy Hogue. "I liked that, but what I liked even better is that we were able to put up another crooked number in the third inning."
That third inning came after the Cougars rebounded a bit to put up one run in both the first and second innings, cutting the lead to 3-2. But the Utes again took control with another three-run effort in that third inning, highlighted by an RBI double courtesy of BreOnna Castaneda that came up just short of clearing the left field fence for a 6-2 lead.
Getting timely hits played big all game for the Utes, which worked well with a stellar relief pitching effort by Sandez.
The Ute freshman was called into the pitching circle with runners on first and second base with no outs, yet managed to clear away all the traffic to keep the lead at 6-2 entering the fourth. Sandez pitched five innings for the Utes, allowing just two hits while striking out three.
"She's worked really hard and the Pac-12 has been really tough for her, so she's learned the hard way," Hogue said. "She pitched really well tonight and got us out of some tough situations, along with our defense."
Dickman led the way from the plate, finishing with a 5 for 5 effort and four RBI.
"She's had such a phenomenal senior year and I've just loved having the best seat in the house to watch her progress," Hogue said. "She's just enjoying the game even though she can get hard on herself. But she's really finishing strong for us and it's great to see."
As mentioned, Utah has taken it on the chin as of late, losing 17 of its last 19 games leading up to Wednesday's win. Such a stretch would indicate a team that struggles to compete, although closer examination reveals taking losses to some of the top teams in the country, including eight of which came to teams ranked inside of the top 5 nationally.
"It's what we signed up for, and we've loved the opportunity to play the top competition we have in the Pac-12," Dickman said. "But like I said, we're fighters and I've loved how we've battled through and you saw it come together tonight. So hopefully we can take this momentum and end the season strong."