The Dixie State University softball game beat Southern Utah University Wednesday and then won three out of four crucial games this week against Azusa Pacific University to keep the Trailblazers within Pacific West Conference contention.
DSU beat its southern Utah foe in a close 5-4 win against the NCAA Division I Thunderbirds.
After dropping the opening game of the four-game series against APU, the Trailblazers won the next three games in a myriad of ways, one of which was a walk-off victory, to take over the second seed in the PacWest.
“Our energy has a lot to do with the way that we win,” said sophomore pitcher Alexis Barkwell, a criminal justice major from San Diego. “We can find a way a way to win, whether we put a bunch of runs on the board or need to just pull out [a close one].”
The Trailblazers held on for a 5-4 win at home against the Thunderbirds in the first game.
The Trailblazers took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning thanks to an RBI single from junior outfielder Kenzie Sawyer. DSU maintained its 1-0 lead heading into the fifth inning when a two-RBI double by sophomore second baseman Bailey Gaffin. Already up 3-0, sophomore catcher Jessica Gonzalez homered three pitches later for her 10th home run of the season.
The Thunderbirds put two runs on the board in the sixth and seventh innings each, but the Trailblazers held on for a 5-4 win.
Next up was a critical four-game series with the Cougars.
By taking three of four games from APU, DSU now has sole possession of second place in the PacWest.
“We would have liked to take all four games [from APU], but the weekend overall was a positive for us,” head coach Randy Simkins said. “We needed to take at least three this weekend, and now we are going to gear up the games we have left.”
The first game did not go as planned for DSU. APU took an early 2-0 lead in the first inning after a two-run home run.
DSU answered in the second inning with a sacrifice fly by freshman outfielder Brenna Hinck.
APU effectively put the game out of reach with four more unanswered runs over the course of the next three innings leading to a 3-6 Trailblazers defeat.
While the DSU bats were cold in the first game, it certainly was not a problem in the second game.
Down 2-0 entering the third inning, the DSU offense found life. A Sawyer RBI single brought one runner in and left the bases loaded. Next up to bat was sophomore third baseman Dani Bartholf. Bartholf cleared the bases with a double.
APU tied the game 5-5 in the fourth inning after a couple costly DSU errors.
A two-RBI double by Gonzalez and a sacrifice fly by Sawyer gave DSU an 8-5 lead after five innings.
APU again tied the score, once again it was due in part to costly errors by the DSU defense.
After a wild pitch and a throwing error by APU, Gaffin was on third with one out. Sawyer drove Gaffin in and then senior outfielder Shelby Yung drove Sawyer in. After all was said and done, DSU held a 12-8 lead after six and would go on to win the game by that same score.
The first game on Saturday was over almost the moment it began. With nearly the entire football team cheering on the Trailblazers, DSU scored nine runs in the bottom of the first.
After a sacrifice fly by Gonzalez, Gaffin and Yung hit back-to-back RBI-singles. Senior catcher Arista Honey followed them with a three-RBI double that gave DSU a 6-1 lead. A couple batters later, Bartholf stepped to the plate and drove two more runs in with a single down the left field line.
DSU added two more runs in the second inning, both off of throwing errors by APU. DSU won the game 11-2 in only five innings.
The final game of the series proved to be the most dramatic of the week for the Trailblazers.
As was the case for every game of the series, APU started the game with the first run of the game. DSU rallied in the fourth inning, and threatened to take the lead after putting runners on the corner with one out before APU made a pitching change. A new pitcher didn’t matter, however when Bartholf cleared the bases with a two-RBI double to deep left center.
After consecutive wild pitches, Bartholf scored herself for a 3-1 Trailblazer lead.
The Cougars cut the lead to 3-2 in the fifth and then tied it in the top of the seventh just after DSU brought in Barkwell. Barkwell mitigated any further damage, and the Trailblazers entered the bottom of the seventh tied 3-3 with the Cougars.
The first two DSU batters went down before Sawyer drew a walk. Sophomore outfielder Taylor Godfrey then came in to pinch run for Sawyer. Despite it being a clear stealing situation, Godfrey got a good jump and stole second base. Just like that, DSU was a hit away from winning the game and the series.
With Gaffin at the plate, DSU seized its opportunity. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Gaffin blasted the game winning RBI-double off the wall for a walk-off 4-3 victory.
“I had been swinging too early all day,” said Gaffin, a business administration major from Glendale, Arizona. “I waited for my pitch, saw that it was outside, and drove it as far as I could.”
Gaffin also noted that there was no pressure on that final at-bat, especially after Godfrey stole second.
“For Bailey, the more she sees a pitcher, advantage Bailey,” Simkins said. “I had no doubt that she was going to deliver for us on that last at-bat.”
Now at 30-8 overall and 15-5 in PacWest play, DSU will travel to Las Vegas to take on UNLV Wednesday at 7 p.m.