PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico – With a huge win over Nebraska to start the 2017 campaign, BYU softball split its two games, dropping its second to No. 1 Oklahoma, on the first day of the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge on Thursday.
“We saw some really good things today against exceptional competition,” BYU head coach Gordon Eakin said. “We will take away the good things and build and adjust on the things we need to work on. I like our team.”
To kick off the 2017 season, BYU (1-1, 0-0 West Coast Conference) played Nebraska (0-1, 0-0 Big Ten) in the first game for all of NCAA softball. An all-around team performance propelled BYU to a 12-1 run-rule win in five innings. It was a rematch of the 2016 NCAA regional game that ended the Cougars’ season.
When BYU faced Oklahoma (1-1, 0-0 Big 12), the Sooners had come off of a 3-2 loss to No. 2 Auburn and were ready to go. The Cougars fell 7-1.
McKenna Bull ruled the day from the circle, throwing seven strikeouts and one walk in the win against Nebraska. Freshman outfielder Rylee Jensen made her collegiate debut with a big day, with a hit in each of her first five at-bats.
BYU’s 12-1 win in five innings over Nebraska was the biggest margin of victory in a season opener in BYU history. It surpassed the 11-1 win against Idaho State back in 2007, which also was a run-rule win in five innings.
Jensen had the best season-opening performance for a BYU freshman in history, going 4 for 4 with three runs. The five RBI from Libby Sugg tied her career high set against Louisville in the 2016 NCAA regional matchup. Ashley Thompson’s three RBI were second-highest on the team, adding two runs on her 2 for 3 effort. Senior Lauren Bell added another perfect performance from the plate, hitting 3 for 3 with two RBI and three runs.
Pitching all five innings, Bulll threw seven strikeouts with just one walk and one earned run.
Starting off the game strong, Bull threw two strikeouts right off the bat. Jensen caught a fly ball to left field to end the top of the first. Then in the Cougars’ first chance at bat, they loaded up the bases and scored two, one off of a fielder’s choice from Sugg and the other from Alexa Strid’s sacrifice fly.
The second and third innings saw huge scoring burst for BYU, bringing in five runs in each inning. In the bottom of the third, singles from Bell and Thompson brought in two-straight runs. Sugg walked up to the plate with two runners on and drilled a home run over the centerfield fence to increase the lead to 7-0.
McKenzie St. Clair got the bottom of the third rolling with a double to left field. Bell, Sugg and Strid all hit one-run singles, while Thompson’s single toward the right field line brought in both Jensen and Lexi Tarrow.
Nebraska was able to get on the board in the top of the fourth with a home run over left field, which was its only hit of the game. Strong defense in the top of the fifth sealed the run-rule win for BYU. The Cornhuskers brought three different pitchers to the circle to try to stop the Cougar offense to no avail.
After holding No. 1 Oklahoma to two scoreless innings, BYU fell 7-1 against the defending national champions in the second game of the day. The Cougars were outhit just 7 to 6 in the loss.
No BYU player had more than one hit in the win. The lone RBI came off the bat of Tarrow, driving in Madison Merrell for the one run. Jensen continued her hitting streak, starting her college career 5 for 5 before coming up empty in her two other at bats. Arianna Paulson, Olivia Sanchez and Arissa Paulson shared pitching duties, with the latter Paulson getting the only strikeout of the game.
Both teams ended their frames in the first inning with runners left on base, Jensen stranded on third for BYU and a runner on second for Oklahoma. To end the first, Strid chased a pop fly, diving and tumbling to complete the catch for the third out.
The Sooner bats came alive in the bottom of the third, scoring five runs, including a two-run homer over right field.
In the top of the fifth, the Cougars got on board behind Tarrow's single that popped over the second baseman’s head. That brought in Madison Merrell to cut into the Oklahoma lead, making it 5-1.
To push their lead, the Sooners brought in two more runs in the bottom of the sixth to extend the advantage to 7-1. BYU was retired in order at the top of the seventh to end the game.
The Puerto Vallarta College continues for BYU on Friday against No. 13 Washington. The two teams begin at 7 p.m. CST. Live stats will be available on the BYU softball schedule page.