Utah's pitchers struggled in their last series against the Huskies. Now, Utes coach Amy Hogue says her pitching staff needs to raise its game if they want to win against UW this weekend

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In a three-game sweep of Utah in Salt Lake City earlier this month the UW softball team (46-11) outscored their Pac-12 opponent 29-15. Their track record against the Utes also includes a 12-1 blowout and – perplexingly – a sneaky 13-12 win that saw Utah blow a 12-1 fifth inning lead.

Collectively, Utah’s pitching staff gave up 32 hits, 29 runs – 21 of which were earned runs — and 15 walks, while amassing only seven strikeouts.

That series was a low point for the Utes and a source of inspiration for the Huskies going into postseason play. But it’s now taken both teams to the same place: Husky Softball Stadium in the NCAA Softball Super Regional this weekend, with a berth to the Women’s College World Series on the line.

UW took a heady confidence from that big rally in that final game against the Utes while Utah was forced to look within itself to find a way to bounce back quickly.

“We took a lot from that series,” said Utah coach Amy Hogue. “That really helped us for regionals.”

The lesson learned: “No number is big enough.”

Which helps explain how the Utes’ offense exploded to score 14 runs in a 14-0 regional final win against BYU.

Also: “On the flip side, if you’re the team that’s behind, there’s no such thing as ‘the game is over,’” Hogue said.

In the Utes’ first regional game against BYU, they trailed 2-1 until the bottom of the seven when hits from Bridget Castro and Hailey Hilburn led Utah to a 3-2 comeback win.

Those two wins showed Hogue that her team had well and truly flushed its 13-12 defeat to UW from its memory banks.

Now, the Utes face the Huskies again with a clean slate.

“One thing we talked about after (playing UW) is ‘We’re taking the rearview mirror off our bus. We no longer look back. This is a new whole season,” said Utah pitcher Katie Donovan.

But the 11th-seeded Utes (36-14) know that if they want their postseason to extend beyond this weekend, they must figure out a way to raise the level of their pitching against the Huskies’ big hitters.

“I think our pitching needs to really step up for us this weekend,” Hogue said. “I think our hitters have won some games of late, and our pitching has failed a little bit. … Our pitchers just need to have a little bit of an edge.”

Unlike UW, which has ridden the right arm of sophomore Taran Alvelo (1.94 ERA) all the way to Super Regionals, the Utes have used a three-pitcher rotation all year.

Juniors Donovan (17-9) and Miranda Viramontes (14-3) have shouldered the bulk of the load, but sophomore Hailey Hilburn (5-2) has also been part of the equation.

All three saw action in the regular season series against UW, with Donovan starting Games 1 and 3, and Viramontes starting the second. Hilburn played in all three and was charged with losses in the second and third games.

Who will get the start on Friday night against the Huskies?

As of Wednesday evening, Hogue said she had not yet made a decision.

That’s normal, apparently. Donovan says the three pitchers don’t find out which of them has earned the start until about 45 minutes before each game.

“Right after we’re done with hitting warm ups, coach comes over and we talk about the plan for the game,” Donovan said. “All three of us are contributors, so it’s whoever the coaches think can get it done best.

“But in the postseason, it’s gonna be a mix of the three of us. It’s not like one person is gonna throw all the innings.”

The three pitchers have very different styles. Viramontes throws hard and has a mean changeup that keeps opposing batters off balance, Donovan says, while Hilburn likes to go after batters with her screwball.

“I throw a little bit more spin,” Donovan says. “So I have more of a live ball. I throw my changeup a lot.”

Ultimately, Hogue says she bases her pitching decision on the following factors: “Who we’re playing, who’s hotter of late, and whose’ the best closer right now.”

The Huskies don’t care which pitcher they face. For one, they’ve seen all three pitchers in action anyway, and for another, they say they wouldn’t dream of overlooking any opponent based on previous results

“We know that they know what happened last time,” UW coach Heather Tarr said. “This is a great opportunity for us to continue working the process of our game and continuing to play game by game, pitch by pitch, inning by inning.”