Catcher Morganne Flores led the Huskies’ offense with seven RBI, slamming a three-run home run to left field in the first inning – that led to the early exit of Utah’s starting pitcher – then following up with a grand slam in the bottom of the fourth.
Less than a week after knocking the nation’s leader in strikeouts out of the game after a third of an inning, the sixth-seeded UW Huskies opened Game 1 of their best-of-three NCAA Super Regional series against Utah with the same strategy: Get the bats going and pound the pitcher into submission early.
Catcher Morganne Flores led the Huskies’ offense with seven RBI, slamming a three-run home run to left field in the first inning – that led to the early exit of Utah’s starting pitcher – then following up with a grand slam in the bottom of the fourth that all but ended the Utes’ comeback hopes.
Flores, who entered the game ranked 12th nationally with 65 RBI, came within one RBI of tying the school one-game record of eight.
UW’s 10-4 win means the sixth-seeded Huskies (47-11) are one win away from clinching their first Women’s College World Series berth since 2013. They play Utah (36-15) again Saturday at 6 p.m. (ESPN2).
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“It was a pretty decent ballgame,” UW coach Heather Tarr said. “Obviously offensively we did some good things today, but the most important thing is our pitching and our defense. We didn’t make an error and we played great defense behind Taran (Alvelo, UW’s starting pitcher) and Taran threw a good ballgame.”
Junior pitcher Miranda Viramontes earned the Game 1 start for Utah even though she was hampered by a recurring back injury. She got to Seattle a day behind her team after making an emergency trip home to Chino, Calif., for the funeral of her grandmother, who died Monday.
Viramontes fared the best of Utah’s three pitchers in the three-game, regular-season series against the Huskies that ended in a UW sweep. But “best” is relative. She started the second game that Utah ultimately lost 4-2, giving up three hits in three innings before she was pulled for Hailey Hilburn. In the third game, which Utah lost 13-12, Viramontes relieved starter Katie Donovan, but got rocked for six hits and seven runs in 22/3 innings.
Things didn’t go much better for Viramontes on Friday night. She was pulled for Hilburn early in the first after giving up four runs and four hits without recording a single out.
Viramontes got off to an inauspicious start when she walked Huskies leadoff hitter Ali Aguilar to begin the bottom of the first, and things devolved from there. Sis Bates hit a single and Casey Stangel got UW on the board by driving a ground single between first and second to send Aguilar home for a 1-0 lead.
That’s when Flores hit her first home run of the night to put the Huskies up 4-0 with no one out.
“I was just looking for something in the zone,” Flores said. “I give all credit to my teammates who were having great at-bats before me. I feel like I really fed off them.”
In the very next at-bat, Taylor Van Zee knocked a grounder to center field for a quick single, and the Utes had seen enough – Viramontes was pulled in favor of Hilburn.
“I think she was confident. She was just, everything was elevated. Everything – her off speed and her drop,” Utah coach Amy Hogue said. “They punished us early for that and we had to go with Hailey. Hailey’s role for us has been to close for two to three innings, and for two to three innings, she was solid. That was the longest outing for her in a long time.”
Hilburn fared better than she had in her last outing against UW, keeping things close enough for a while for the Utes, whose offense roared to life in the top of the fourth when Kelly Martinez hit a three-run home run to right field to close the gap to 5-3.
But the Utes’ pitchers were simply overwhelmed by UW, which averaged eight runs per game in regional play last weekend and seemed hell-bent on duplicating that offensive performance.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth, a struggling Hilburn allowed a double and walked Bates and Stangel to load the bases. That brought Flores to the plate, and she promptly cleared the bases with a homer that soared even farther than her first and put the Huskies ahead 9-3.
Van Zee had a solo home run to centerfield in the sixth inning for UW.
“I think we’ve been priding ourselves on being tough. We look for a pitch to hit, we stay tough, we battle,” Van Zee said. “You see people throwing up eight-pitch, nine-pitch at bats. That’s how we’re dealing with things right now.”
UW pitcher Taran Alvelo picked up her 32nd win of the year. Hilburn allowed 10 hits and six runs in relief of Viramontes.
Hogue hinted that junior Katie Donovan, who did not see action Friday, would get the start Saturday against UW because she’s fresh.
“But we’ll have to use all of them,” Hogue said.