The Utah softball team needs one more win to clinch at least a .500 season and a berth in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Coach Amy Hogue was hoping the three-game series final against Washington could be the clincher Sunday afternoon.

It was also Senior Day for the Utes, but the Huskies had a few seniors with their own plans.

Gabbie Plain scattered six hits, and escaped several jams, and Baylee Klingler hit a two-run homer, and that was enough to give Washington a 5-1 Pac-12 Conference win in front of 1,200 fans at Utah’s Dumke Family Softball Stadium.

The Huskies, now 34-13 overall, have already clinched a postseason berth, but came to Utah looking to improve their RPI rating. Instead, it was the Utes who likely improved from the series. With the loss, Utah fell to 26-25 but have three games scheduled at Oregon State next week. One victory – or even three rainouts – would give Utah a reason to celebrate its first NCAA tourney berth since 2017.

Hogue said the tourney’s selection show is scheduled for May 15, and a winning record is required to qualify. Not bad considering the Utes were at the bottom of the league last year. 

“It was a big weekend for us and it would have been nice to wrap it up today,” said Hogue. “Still, we took two of three from them and that will help.”

The Utes also honored four seniors. While there are more seniors on the roster, it’s still uncertain how many will return after being given an extra year of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic, which cut short the 2019-20 season. 

CC Cook, Shi Smith, Katie Faulk and Madi Jacobus were the honored players during a short ceremony under threatening skies after the game. Hogue was happy to tell the remaining fans individual stories about each player. With each story, it was clear Hogue’s recruiting technique may start with her looking for a “nice swing,” but also includes intelligence and educational performance.

 “We care about their GPA (grade point average) as well as their batting average,” she said. “We’ve found that smart kids and competitiveness usually go hand-in-hand.”

The Utes needed both Sunday. Starting in sunny, warm weather, Washington took an early lead, but then Halle Morris hit a solo home run to tie the game. Klingler, the Pac-12’s hitting and home run leader, then smacked a two-run shot over the left field fence in the fifth.

The Utes threatened in the bottom of every inning afterward, but Plain survived, giving a special thanks to her left fielder, Sami Reynolds, another senior who made nice plays on five fly balls that could have gone for extra bases each time.

“That’s the way the game goes,” Hogue said. “Some days, those balls drop. We’ve really ‘turned’ on the ball well the last few days. I’m really happy the way we’ve played.”

Four years ago, Plain threw a perfect game against the Utes, but Utah opened this series with a 5-2 win Friday with Plain on the mound. This time, she got enough help to secure her 17th win (one-half of Washington’s total). Plain walked two and struck out five. She also made a nice defensive play on Sophie Jacquez’s hit up the middle with runners on first and second base and two outs in the sixth.