Freshman Daniella Urincho pitched the Cougars into the semifinals, allowing only three hits and one run in seven innings against Utah Thursday evening. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
SAN -- After winning the regular season Mountain West Conference title, the Cougars continued their winning ways in the first round of the MWC softball tournament, knocking off fourth-seeded Utah 6-1 to advance to the semifinals and move to 42-12 on the season.
"This was a good win for us," said BYU head coach Gordon Eakin. "We started off strong and finished strong. Beating a team five times in one season is tough to do, especially when it's Utah."
Freshman pitcher Daniella Urincho, who earned All-MWC honors this season, gave the Cougars a great outing as she went the distance, recording one earned run, five strikeouts and just one walk in seven innings to move to 14-2 on the season.
The Cougars also got strong performances from the middle of the batting order. Senior outfielder Debbie Dodds went 1-for-3, scoring one run, as did junior third baseman Ashlyn Russell, who also had two runs batted in. Freshman right fielder Lyndi Kennedy also went 1-for-3 with an RBI while junior first baseman Ianeta Le'i was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBI's. Junior shortstop Paige Paramore went a perfect 2-for-2 with two runs scored.
"Dani (Urincho) had a heck of a game for us," Eakin said. "We also had timely hitting from Ianeta (Le'i), who always gives us a punch, and Lyndi Kennedy, who really stepped it up today."
After BYU Urincho retired the first three Ute batters in order, the Cougars struck first in the bottom of the first inning, beginning with a Paramore single straight up the middle. Le'i then singled to move Paramore to second base and set the stage for Russell, who ranks second in the league in runs batted in. Russell stayed true to form, doubling down the left field line to bring in Paramore and Le'i and then crossing home on an error, giving the Cougars a 3-0 lead at the end of the first inning.
The Utes threatened in the top of the second, loading the bases with a single, a walk and a batter hit by a pitch. However, with two outs, Urincho buckled down and struck out the next batter, forcing the Utes to leave three stranded.
Jennifer Whiteley led off the top of the second inning, earning a free trip to first base on four straight balls. Whiteley then advanced to third on sacrifices by Jodi Norton and Lauren Watson-Perry but would get no further as Krystle Chamberlain flied out to end the inning.
A one-out single in the top of the third by Ute Diana Phillips gave Utah its second hit of the game. After Phillips advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, Devina Quintero hit a blooper into left field that was bobbled by Chamberlain, allowing Phillips to score the Utes' first run of the game and leaving the score 3-1 in favor of the Cougars.
The Cougars tried to answer back in the bottom of the third inning as Paramore earned a one-out walk, but Le'i flied out to center field for the second out and pinch runner Milli Jones was caught stealing to end the inning.
Both teams went three up three down in the fourth and fifth innings, leaving the score 3-1 Cougars.
Urincho retired all three Ute batters in order to start the sixth inning, bringing up Dodds to lead it off for the Cougars. Dodds singled into left field and then advanced to second on a single from Paige Paramore. Le'i then ripped one up the middle for a triple, scoring both Dodds and Paramore and extending the Cougar lead to 5-1.
Kennedy kept the Cougar bats singing as she sent one all the way to the wall in left-center field for a triple, scoring pinch runner Emi Snow on the play. Whiteley flied out on the next pitch and Kennedy was tagged out coming home to end the sixth inning but not before BYU took a commanding 6-1 lead.
The Utes had one more chance in the top of the seventh inning but could not take advantage as Russell made a diving catch at third base to get the first out and Urincho struck out the next two batters to give BYU the victory.
The Cougars will play their semifinal game Friday at 4:30 PDT against the winner of Friday morning's game between New Mexico and the winner of the evening game between UNLV and host San Diego State.