by Zachary Knecht
Featured Image: Photo by Weber State Athletics
Weber State UNLV Tournament
Weber State softball is back, kicking off the 2023 campaign in the UNLV Tournament against top-tier competition. Entering the season, the Wildcats were voted the favorites to win the Big Sky conference and to repeat their efforts at the top of the throne from their last season. With returning players like MacKell McCuistion, Katelyn Whiting, and Faith and Lauren Hoe, the ‘Cats are slated for another big season, and their first destination was at the UNLV Rebel Kickoff.
The three-day tournament consisted of five games against sizable opponents in Baylor, Arkansas, and UNLV. Their first opponent Baylor came into the year as no pushover, getting votes for the top-25 NFCA poll and finishing immediately behind the Wildcats at 52, according to Softball America last year. The Wildcats then took on #7 Arkansas in two games between Friday and Saturday, a team that set a school record for single-season wins last year. Weber State wrapped up the tournament against the hosting UNLV Rebels, projected to finish third in the Mountain West Conference after an NISC Championship loss.
Baylor vs Weber State 8-4
After a promising 3-0 first inning for Weber State – riding a two-run Lauren Hoe home run – the Baylor Bears stormed back in a big way. Scoring five unanswered runs by the fourth inning, Baylor never looked back, capping off their strong offensive performance with three runs in the final two innings. The Wildcats scored their final run in the fifth from a McCuistion ground out that drove in Faith Hoe.
Aliyah Binford was credited with the win after her five innings, giving up four earned runs and striking out. RyLee Crandall came in for the save, pitching two innings of scoreless softball while striking out two of her own en route to her first save of 2023.
The ‘Cats’ pitchers were lit up in the contest. Amanda Johnson pitched 3.2 innings, giving up four earned runs, and was credited with the loss, while Madison Peterson gave up three over 3.1. They allowed 11 hits and eight walks against the Bears.
Weber State vs #7 Arkansas 0-8
The day didn’t get any easier for the Wildcats, facing the defending SEC champion Razorbacks. The game was over for Weber State before it started, allowing five runs in the first inning to their ranked opponent. A Spencer Prigge double sent three runs in the massive first inning, giving Arkansas all the help they needed to fend off the ‘Cats, who were held scoreless in the game.
Callie Turner pitched four innings, keeping Weber State to two hits and four walks in the contest while striking out three. Robyn Herron finished it off by throwing a flawless final inning, striking out one, and allowing no base runners.
Brooke Hatfield was out of the game after 1.1 innings, giving up six earned runs on seven hits, while Peterson and Jayci Finch played damage control, limiting their daunting opponent to two runs over 2.2. McCuistion and Lauren Hoe were the only two to leave with a hit.
#7 Arkansas vs Weber State 11-0
Saturday’s opener was more grueling than the first against Arkansas, getting shut out for the second time against the seventh-ranked Razorbacks. A seven-run second inning tore apart Weber State, adding a few more runs in the five-inning game. Rylin Hedgecock led Arkansas in RBI with 3, with six other players getting in on the action and driving in runs. Only sporting eight hits, the Razorbacks took advantage of every at-bat against the ‘Cats.
The pitching for Arkansas was just as dominant. Herron continued to dominate the Wildcats with another three phenomenal innings, allowing one hit and striking out five. Nikki McGaffin left Weber State hitless in two innings, striking out one and walking one.
Johnson lost her second game in two days, giving up four over one inning. The rest of Weber State’s pitchers didn’t have better luck; Finch, Hatfield, and McCraw all allowed runs in their go against the dominant lineup. Mika Chong was the sole Wildcat with a hit.
Weber State vs UNLV 4-0
The ‘Cats grabbed their first win against the hosting Rebels. Lauren Hoe drove in the first run in the third, which was already enough to secure their first W. A two-run double from McCuistion and a single by Chong delivered the next three runs. UNLV couldn’t get their offense off the ground, falling scoreless to Weber State.
Johnson had a major turnaround against the Rebels, pitching the full seven innings. She improved to 1-2 on the year, containing UNLV to three hits and six walks, striking out two.
Ellie Zellien took her first L of the season, giving up three over 3.2 innings. She allowed four hits and four walks, struggling to put away Wildcat batters. After a quick 0.1 innings and one run from Thiede, Jasmine Martin finished out strong, keeping the damage to the four runs on the scoreboard.
Weber State vs UNLV 4-12
Sunday’s game looked for the taking after a quick 4-0 lead by end of the third inning. Lauren Hoe homered again, driving in three, and McCuistion struck again with a one-run single. Any sense of comfort was removed after a three-run UNLV fifth thanks to the bats of Schmidt and Armendariz, the lead becoming short-lived after the Rebel momentum. UNLV let it rain in the sixth and final inning, highlighted by Martinez’s three-run home run.
Jasmine Martin pitched all six innings, giving up four on six hits and no walks. She struck out two in her second win of the season.
Madison Peterson took the brunt of UNLVs offense, allowing five over five, also giving up five hits, and striking out five. The loss was her first of the year. Johnson made another appearance but couldn’t get an out while allowing three runs. Finch allowed three earned runs as well in 0.1 innings.
After a 1-4 start, the Wildcats head to Phoenix to participate in the Grand Canyon Tournament for another five-game endeavor.
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