BYU’s softball team has qualified for the NCAA tournament in 13 consecutive seasons. In addition, the Cougars have won an incredible 9 consecutive conference championships. So, it is definitely fair to say that BYU softball head coach Gordon Eakin is killing it.
In the first game of the NCAA Regionals hosted by Utah in Salt Lake City, BYU was paired with the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mississippi State placed their most accomplished pitcher in school history in the circle — senior Alexis Silkwood, the all-time Miss. St. leader in career wins, strikeouts, complete games and innings pitched, and third all-time in saves and shutouts.
Faced with the challenge of Silkwood, Eakin devised a gameplan. His players executed it beautifully. The result made the veteran all-timer opposing pitcher look overwhelmed and overmatched.
Junior shortstop Alexa Strid started the scoring in the second inning for the #21 Cougars with a solo blast to left field. 1-0.
After an awesome diving catch in center field, freshman Brooke Vander Heide reached fire base on an error, showed off her wheels by stealing second — setting up her score and swaggy fist pump combo when WCC Freshman of the Year Rylee Jensen singled up the middle. 2-0 BYU.
In the bottom of the third, sophomore outfielder Lexi Tarrow aggressively stretched a single into a double.
Clean-up hitter Libby Sugg uncharacteristically showed bunt and pulled her bat back. Noticing the third baseman didn’t move in on her showing bunt, Eakin had Sugg bunt. The move caught the Bulldog defense off guard when Sugg placed a perfect bunt down in the no-mans land between the pitching circle and third base. Surprise and execution put Sugg on at first. It is an easy game sometimes, I guess.
Junior Madison Merrill would come in to pinch run for Sugg at first base.
Rattled, Silkwood walked Ashley Thompson to load the bases with no one out.
Caitlyn Larsen Alldredge, WCC Player of the Year, reached on a RBI fielder’s choice extending the BYU lead to 3-0.
Alexa Strid drew a walked to load the bases again with one out.
Eakin then dialed up a masterful play. Alldredge came way off the second base bag. Mississippi State’s catcher threw to second trying to trap Alldredge in a pickle, but Merrill — the pinch runner — darted for home. The throw home was not in time and Merrill’s steal of home gave the Y a 4-run lead.
While the throw went home, Alldredge safely took third base. The level of aggression and execution carried out on the double steal was so staggering that it wouldn’t be hard to find people that would be ready to accuse Eakin of wizardry after that gutsy call.
With runners on the corners, the Cougars would score again on Briielle Breland’s RBI single. Cougars up 5-0.
Just like that, 2 1/3 innings into the game, the BYU softball team had knocked out Mississippi State’s ace pitcher. It was a game planning clinic corroborating Coach Gordon Eakin’s WCC Coach of the Year plaudits.
The Cougars kept the pressure on in the 4th inning. Senior Lauren Bell doubled and Lexi Tarrow immediately hit an RBI triple. Cougars up 6-0.
BYU would kill off their SEC opponents in the bottom of the 6th.
Bell reached base on an error. Sugg singled to put runners on the corners. Ashley Thompson singled to deep center where Mississippi State’s fielder crashed into the wall and dropped the softball. Bell scored to make it 7-0 Cougars.
Alldredge singled to load the bases. Eventually, Breland hit the kill shot RBI single to give BYU the 8-run mercy rule finish!
Meanwhile, BYU all-time great pitcher McKenna Bull continued her dominance, but showed a different side of her abilities.
Bull, honored as WCC Pitcher of the Year on the strength of a 0.15 ERA in conference play, was in control from the beginning and never allowed Mississippi State to get comfortable. However, it wasn’t an overpowering performance that Bull — the school’s all-time strikeout leader — typically exhibits. Bull pitched a six-inning shutout, but did so with only one strikeout.
Bull still managed and competed in a way that simply wouldn’t allow opposing batters to hit the ball hard, and ended up only allowing the Bulldogs one hit. All-in-all, it was another pitching performance to back up any claim that Bull is the best to ever do it for the Cougars.
The Cougars will face the winner of Thursday night’s game between host University of Utah and Fordham on Friday afternoon at 1 p.m.