The University of Utah softball team is not going to change its mindset now, just because it has reached the pinnacle of its sport, the Women’s College World Series, for the first time since 1994.

“I think just play loose, be ourselves, don’t give in to the hype and try to be something we are not. We are on a great run, so we need to be as true to ourselves as we can be. That’s the best chance we have.” — Utah softball coach Amy Hogue

Playing up their role as an underdog all season after being picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 almost five months ago, the Utes (42-14) continue to relish that status even after going a combined 5-1 in the regionals and super regionals the past two weekends.

“I think we play better if we believe we are the underdog, so I think we are making sure to stay on that plane,” coach Amy Hogue told the Deseret News Wednesday afternoon. “But we know better. We have beat the best of the best, and we know if we play loose we can beat anybody.”

First up for the 15 seed Utes in the WCWS is another matchup with Pac-12 foe Washington, a 7 seed. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. MDT Thursday in the second game of Bracket 2.

The Utah-Washington loser will face the loser of the No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 6 Oklahoma State tussle on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in an elimination game, while Thursday’s winners will meet at 5 p.m. Saturday.

All four games Thursday will be televised by ESPN.

In Bracket 1, No. 4 Tennessee and No. 5 Alabama start things rolling at 10 a.m. MDT, followed by No. 1 Oklahoma (the favorite) vs. No. 9 Stanford at approximately 12:30 p.m.

Having rolled past San Diego State in the Super Regionals in Salt Lake City last weekend, after a shaky start in which Hogue says her squad “played tight as a drum,” the Utes flew to Oklahoma City on Monday and practiced Tuesday at Oklahoma’s field.

Wednesday, the Utes got their first look at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and its 13,000 seats that are expected to be filled close to capacity until the finals June 7-9, particularly if the Sooners or OSU Cowboys are still around.

Hogue said her team is “relaxed and loose right now, giggling and having fun,” and that’s a good thing.

“We saw what happens (the 4-3 loss to the Aztecs) last Friday when we are playing tight, and that didn’t work out very well, so we are doing our very best to be aware of how we are feeling. We are hyper-focused on that, and I do think it is helpful.”

The Utes appear to be as healthy as they’ve been in weeks, having recovered from setbacks suffered by infielder Julia Jimenez and outfielder Sophie Jacquez during their run to the Pac-12 tournament title.

“It is the end of the year, so I don’t think there is anybody who is 100%. But, being at home two weeks in a row, and then having all these days to prepare for this game on Thursday night, we are plenty rested,” Hogue said. “Nobody is not available. So we are excited about that fact, because that is tough to do at the end of the year, to have everyone available.”

Of course, having ace pitcher Mariah Lopez rested and ready to go is a big key for the Utes. The lefty from Arizona has been sensational in May and has started in eight straight games for Utah. Lopez, a junior, has a 1.30 earned run average in her six NCAA Tournament starts and has struck out 35 batters in 32 innings.

“She’s been phenomenal,” Hogue said.

At a news conference Wednesday in Oklahoma City, Ellessa Bonstrom and Lopez appeared alongside Hogue. Both players said they are living out their dreams, as are all their teammates.

“It is very surreal. ... Just being here in Oklahoma City,” Bonstrom said. “I think all of us have dreamed of being here as little girls, and to just live out that childhood dream is very special. So yeah, just trying to soak in every moment that we have here is definitely what we are trying to do.”

Hogue says there are “pros and cons” to facing a league foe in the opener. Utah is 2-2 against Washington this season, having knocked off the then-No. 9 Huskies 2-1 in Seattle on April 21 before losing 6-5 and 5-3 in the final two games of the in-season series.

Then the Utes downed the then-No. 5 Huskies 8-4 in Tucson in the Pac-12 semifinals before upsetting UCLA 7-4 in the championship game.

“I think that because they are so familiar to us, it is going to allow us to settle into the environment a little bit more, because at least something familiar is happening out there, instead of playing in a new place in front of a whole bunch of people against people we know nothing about,” Hogue said. “And then by Game 2 play somebody we haven’t played this year. That actually can work in our favor a little bit, I think.”

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Hogue expects a relatively high score, a shootout, because UW knows Utah pitching and Utah knows UW pitching.

“This is definitely the dream, and I think everyone is still kind of in shock, like this is real, and so we are just trying to make the most of it and a lot of fun together,” Lopez said.

Utah is fully equipped to handle such a high-scoring affair, after putting up 17 runs and 25 hits in the final two games against SDSU, an unseeded entrant into the supers.

Leadoff hitter Aliya Belarde, super senior Bonstrom, Haley Denning, Karlie Davison, Abby Dayton and Jimenez and Jacquez lead a well-balanced offensive attack. Bonstrom has driven in a team-high 54 runs and is Utah’s all-time RBI leader; Davison and Bonstrom have hit 11 homers apiece, while Jimenez — hitting star of the first win over SDSU — has 10.

Certainly, a deep run isn’t out of the question for the Utes, who are in the WCWS for the first time since 1994 — when Hogue was a star player on Jo Evans’ standout team.

What will it take?

“I think just play loose, be ourselves, don’t give in to the hype and try to be something we are not,” Hogue said. “We are on a great run, so we need to be as true to ourselves as we can be. That’s the best chance we have.

“We have a lot of tools, and we absolutely belong here. We have earned it, and I like our chances. I really believe that if we can stay true to who we are, we have a shot.”