With its season hanging in the balance, with the pressure on, facing a must-win situation, the No. 15 Utah softball team returned to Dumke Stadium Saturday afternoon looking like a much different group than it did during Friday night’s 4-3 loss to San Diego State. 

The Utes returned to doing what they do best.

Utah’s bats exploded for 13 hits, including three home runs, in a dominating 10-1 victory over the Aztecs in Game 2 of the NCAA’s Super Regional. 

That sets up a Sunday showdown at noon for a winner-take-all Game 3 with a berth in next week’s Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City at stake. 

The Utes cast Friday’s disappointment aside — that loss snapped a nine-game winning streak — and they played both relaxed and aggressively in front of a record-setting crowd of 2,925 at Dumke Stadium.

“Breathing is our biggest talent on this team. I think we lost a little bit of it yesterday, but this team has so much grit,” said third baseman Julia Jimenez, who crushed a two-out grand slam in the fourth inning.

“We have been waiting for that moment for a long time. We lost a little of it yesterday, but we are going to get them tomorrow.”

“We are just so competitive, and when we show up in situations like how we did yesterday, we have a lot more to prove the next day,” said leadoff hitter Aliya Belarde, who collected three hits and scored twice.

“That is probably one of our biggest things we hold ourselves to, is that standard of how we come back the next day and get it done.”

Every batter in Utah’s lineup recorded at least one hit Saturday. The Utes, who were designated as the visiting team despite hosting this series, set the tone early, opening the game in the top of the first inning with a two-run homer to right-center by Ellessa Bonstrom. 

That blast jump-started the offensive barrage.

Not even a 30-minute lightning delay during the third inning (the game was paused and the field and stands were cleared) could slow down the Utes on this day. 

“I think if anything it made them a little stir-crazy in there and they came out and just blew the game up,” said Utah coach Amy Hogue.

In the fourth, Jimenez’s grand slam staked Utah to a 7-1 lead. It marked her third grand slam of the season. 

“I was not expecting that whatsoever because I swung and whiffed at two changeups, but I just told myself that you are going to get a good pitch here and just slowing it down for me was one of my biggest things,” Jimenez said.

“I need to breathe when I am up there. I just told myself, ‘You are not striking out up there. Whatever is going to happen, you’re not striking out.’ I saw it, put my bat on the ball and it went.”

And with it went SDSU’s hopes of sweeping the Utes, clinching the series Saturday and advancing to the CWS. 

“It was a tough day for the Aztecs. There’s really not any other way of saying it,” said SDSU coach Stacey Nuveman Deniz.

“Right from the beginning of the game they were swinging it and putting the pressure on. Credit goes to them.” 

In the fifth inning, Utah right fielder Shelbi Ortiz drilled a three-run home run to make it 10-1. Because the Utes had a lead of at least eight runs in the fifth, the game was called at the conclusion of that inning. 

But it wasn’t only Utah’s bats that responded Saturday. The Utes, who committed a pair of errors in the first inning Friday, played error-free softball Saturday. 

“It is unlike us (to have errors). It for sure is,” Jimenez said. “Aliya and I talk about it all the time. We have one error and it’s not happening again.

“We learn from it and today we were like ‘We are going to have the best defense we have ever had.’ Coming from yesterday, it is unlike us, so we know we have each other’s backs.”

Meanwhile, starting pitcher Mariah Lopez (22-6), who has been so effective all season long, turned in another strong performance.

After yielding six walks and nine hits Friday, the Utes’ ace gave up only four hits and one earned run, with two strikeouts, in four innings of work.

Sarah Ladd relieved Lopez in the fifth to close out the game.  

Not surprisingly, Lopez is scheduled to start Sunday’s game as well. 

“She doesn’t need rest. She wants the ball. She is hungry for it,” said Hogue. “It was nice to get Sarah in there because there are a lot of nerves there and it was a chance to get some nerves out because we are going to need all of our arms to get through this thing tomorrow.

“It was good to get her that experience out there and she did great.”

Sunday, Utah (41-14) will be looking to reach the College World Series for the first time since 1994. SDSU (39-16) is eyeing its first-ever CWS berth. 

The Aztecs are hoping for a repeat of Friday’s outcome. 

“Today for us, we have to flush it and move on and that is the best we can do,” said Nuveman Deniz.

“Today was their day and tomorrow it is back to earning a championship opportunity and a chance to get to Oklahoma City.”

And the Utes are hoping to build on the momentum they established Saturday. 

“We had a talk last night and there were a lot of things that we couldn’t control and we decided to come out here today and play our game and have fun,” Belarde said.

“When we play loose it is definitely when we produce the most.”

Hogue was gratified by the way her team dealt with adversity, setting up a huge game Sunday. 

“What a team win. Really proud of this group and how they recovered and how they came back after the little delay we had to run off seven more runs,” she said.

“I really wish we could play that last game right now, but we will get some rest and come back tomorrow.”