(Photo by Courtesy of the WAC)
LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The BYU softball team won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title in a clean sweep, defeating No. 3-seed Fresno State 8-3 on Saturday.
The Cougars will play in the NCAA Tournament for an eighth-straight year, with placement announced during the Selection Show on Sunday at 8 p.m. MT on ESPNU and espn3.com.
BYU (43-13) did not lose a game over the last three days in the double elimination tournament, defeating Louisiana Tech and No. 11 Hawai'i in addition to the Bulldogs to take home its fourth-straight conference title, a first in program history.
Senior Stacie Toney was named Tournament MVP and was joined by senior Delaney Willard and sophomore Tori Almond on the All-Tournament Team.
The Cougars out-hit Fresno State, 13-5, as five players each had two or more. BYU had six singles in the decisive fifth inning when the Cougars scored five runs to pull away from the Bulldogs by turning a two-run lead into an 8-1 margin.
Tori Almond pitched one inning for BYU before Hannah Howell went the final six, becoming the fourth pitcher in program history to win 20 games in a season.
The Cougars scored the first three runs of the game, the first on an RBI-single by Delaney Willard in the top of the first inning to bring in Jessica Dugas. Two more runs came in the third inning after Katie Manuma hit a high shot to left field for a 2-run home run, her eighth of the year, giving BYU a 3-0 lead.
Fresno State tacked on a run in the fourth, but the BYU offense answered in the fifth with some small-ball hitting. Toney and Krista Hicks reached before Ashlee Brawley laid down a perfect bunt to load the bases. Freshman Shelbi Everett made it count, hitting a single up the middle for two runs.
BYU continued the pressure, loading the bases again on a single by Dugas to set up another hit up the middle by senior Tiffany Messerschmidt. JC Clayton extended her hit streak to 14 games with a single to left field after the single by Messerschmidt, enabling Dugas to score after the Bulldog left fielder had difficulty collecting the ball.
Howell retired the Bulldogs in order in the fifth, with Toney racing over from her spot on defense between first and second to make an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow centerfield to seal the championship.
BYU has won 19 of its last 20 games and will take its hot streak to the NCAA Regional at a site to be announced Sunday. The Regional will begin Thursday, May 17.