Ever since Utah softball coach Amy Hogue took the helm of the program 16 years ago, her deep desire has been to lead the Utes to the Women’s College World Series.

Hogue accomplished that feat, twice, as a Utah player, with the most recent WCWS appearance 29 years ago. 

Now, Hogue has guided the program to those heights again, this time as a coach, as No. 15-seeded Utah defeated San Diego State 7-2 in the deciding game three of the NCAA Super Regionals in front of the largest crowd to witness a game at Dumke Stadium — 3,093.

There was plenty of joy in Uteville Sunday afternoon. 

When the final out was secured, Utah players mobbed each other on the field and the red-clad fans, including hundreds on the outfield berm, celebrated this monumental achievement, partying like it was 1994. 

“It has been too long. They have been building and doing all the things that it takes to get there. You can’t take what we just did for granted,” Hogue said. “It’s incredibly hard. I just talked to my former coach who has been there. Took me there, led us there — Jo Evans. She said, ‘You have to enjoy every minute of it because it is just so hard to get there. You’re going. Go and have a good time.’”

This week, Utah travels to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the WCWS, which begins Thursday. The Utes face fellow Pac-12 member No. 7 Washington Thursday (7:30 p.m. MDT). Utah beat the Huskies in the Pac-12 tournament in Arizona earlier this month. 

This weekend, the Utes (42-14) hosted Super Regionals for the first time, and SDSU (39-17) won the first game 4-3. But the Utes showed resilience, capturing back-to-back, must-win games against the Aztecs, including a 10-1 decision Saturday. Utah has now won 11 of its last 12 contests.

How does SDSU coach Stacey Nuveman Deniz think the Utes will fare in Oklahoma City? 

“They’re a gritty squad. We’ve played some really, really good teams this year and I feel like … everybody (at Utah) can do everything in terms of, they have a short game,” she said. “As a defense, it’s hard to play them. They seem to be playing with a lot of confidence. I think they’re going go in and make some noise. You saw what they did in the Pac-12 tournament. They’ve got a complete team and they’re inspired. That’s a pretty dangerous combination.”

Sunday, the Utes enjoyed a decisive four-run second inning, highlighted by Abby Dayton’s RBI triple to put Utah ahead 4-1.

Ute ace Mariah Lopez (23-6) started for the third time this weekend and pitched five strong innings, scattering four hits and surrendering one earned run while striking out six. 

“I am going to give it up to Mariah Lopez. She was unbelievable,” Nuveman Deniz said. “I don’t know what her pitch total was this weekend — somewhere in the 300s — and that is sort of a throwback to this generation. I don’t know her, but I am proud of her. She battled her butt off and carried her team to their first ever so congrats to them.”

Sarah Ladd earned the save by pitching the final two frames.

The Aztecs made things interesting in the fourth by adding another run. But in the sixth frame, pinch hitter Halle Morris’ two-run single, which scored Haley Denning and Dayton, gave Utah a five-run cushion at 7-2.

The Utes racked up 11 hits Sunday against SDSU starter Allie Light and reliever Dee Dee Hernandez. 

“That was the name of the game, to get run support for Mariah since they had seen her so many innings,” Hogue said. “It is really important to get a big number up early, and we got a big number up early and never looked back. Really proud of this team.”

“It is awesome to see how the team has grown in the past five years since I have been here. Now it is crazy we get to be one of the top eight teams.” — Utah’s Haley Denning

Nobody outside of Utah’s softball program could have seen a WCWS berth coming for this squad before the season began.

Last year, the Utes posted a 27-27 mark. In 2021, they finished 22-33. With mostly the same players, Utah has won the Pac-12 conference tournament title and now will be competing for a national championship. 

In February, the Utes were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 in the preseason coaches poll. Now, they are among the final eight softball teams in the country still playing.

“Coming from freshman and sophomore year, it was hard because we didn’t even have a shot at postseason,” said Denning, a senior. “So coming and seeing this year how hard everyone has worked, it has just been insane and super awesome. It is awesome to see how the team has grown in the past five years since I have been here. Now it is crazy we get to be one of the top eight teams.”

Lopez wanted nothing more than to pitch as much as she could this weekend and help her team advance to the WCWS. 

“When my number is called, I want the ball whenever. If that is what the team needs then I am going to be there for them,” she said. “I want to play. I want to be the one to take my team there. Obviously, we are getting the rest we need, but it is more mental and wanting it more than the other team.”

Utah certainly appreciated the support of the crowd throughout the weekend. Since the Utes hosted regionals last week, the program has broken the Dumke Stadium attendance record with each successive game played. 

It was the biggest home series in school history and the fans turned out to witness an historic accomplishment. 

“The crowd fired us up,” Hogue said. “It was just meant to be for us to be here and celebrate this because either way we were maybe going to go get it done on the road, but to be able to be with everyone here together and enjoy it with our fans it just means so much more.”

Hogue hopes that fans will continue to fill up the seats at Dumke Stadium in the future. 

View Comments

“We raised the bar a little bit and we want these fans to come out when it’s snowing in mid-March when we are playing at home and not just when it is Super Regionals,” she said. “It is a call out to all of our fans because we know you are out there and keep coming.”

After the victory, Hogue emphasized that although she has played in the WCWS, and now will coach in one, this isn’t about her. She credited everyone that has played a role in helping the program reach this stage. 

“The University decided to build a nice stadium that we could fill up and do this,” Hogue said. “There are so many pieces that went into place and the alum that are out there — they built this. I just got to write the lineup and be a part of the ride. I am just really proud of the accomplishment because there were so many people involved and we should be proud of that fact that it was a whole group that got this done.”

Yes, there was plenty of joy in Uteville Sunday. 

Utah celebrates after winning the NCAA softball Super Regional between Utah and San Diego State at Dumke Family Softball Stadium in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 28, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News
Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.