Dominant pitching by Bull and Thompson fuel BYU's sweep, clinch WCC title outright
SANTA CLARA, Calif.— Complete-game shutouts by McKenna Bull and Ashley Thompson powered BYU softball to a doubleheader sweep over Santa Clara, clinching outright the West Coast Conference championship Friday night.
The Cougars (36-10, 11-0 WCC) topped the Broncos (15-34, 4-10 WCC) 4-0 and 5-0 to secure their seventh straight championship and their 11th consecutive NCAA tournament berth.
“I’m proud of the team for finding ways today to get the job done,” BYU head coach Gordon Eakin said. “Even though we didn’t play our best ball offensively, we found ways to manufacture runs and our pitching was exceptional.”
The sophomore ace Bull notched her 31st victory of the season with the shutout win, allowing three hits in seven innings while striking out nine. In the bottom of the fourth she recorded her 214th strikeout of the season, passing Paige Affleck for the most strikeouts in a season by a BYU sophomore.
Fellow sophomore Thompson (4-1) followed with a three-hit shutout of her own for her best outing of the season. She also led all Cougar hitters with a 3-for-6 performance on the day.
The Cougars started out with Bravo’s single through the right side to lead off the game. After Bell reached on a fielder’s choice and O’Connor was safe with a single, Thompson's single up the middle drove in Bell for the first score of the game. Sydney Broderick then grounded out while also recording an RBI for the second run. With the 2-0 lead, McKenzie St. Clair worked the count for a single that dropped down the line into shallow left for another RBI and a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the first.
Santa Clara threatened in the second with two runners on base on a walk and a single to right. Bull controlled the pace though, as she recorded strike outs for the first and third outs of the frame.
In the top of the third, BYU added another run. Thompson reached on her second single of the game, eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly by St. Clair for a 4-0 lead before the inning ended.
Bull continued her consistent outing in the circle, striking out two in the fourth.
After the Cougar offense went down 1-2-3 in the fourth and fifth innings, they loaded the bases in the top of the sixth but couldn’t take advantage, stranding three runners.
BYU dictated the pace defensively for the last two innings, highlighted by a sliding underhand catch by Bravo in the sixth and Bull’s ninth strikeout in the seventh, helping to seal the game 4-0.
The Cougars began the nightcap with one run in the first inning as Bravo scored on an RBI by Broderick, who reached base on a fielding error by the pitcher.
The next two innings were scoreless on both sides.
The third frame started off hopeful with O’Connor’s stand-up double to the gap in right-center. Thompson followed with a walk and Broderick’s sacrifice bunt advanced runners to second and third. Coco Tauali'i's walk loaded the bases, but BYU left three aboard, coming up empty-handed in the inning.
SCU threatened in the bottom of the third, getting runners on base with a one-out double and a two-out walk. Thompson helped her cause by striking out two of the three outs in the frame.
The Cougars then scored one in the top of the fourth to take a 2-0 lead. Hofstedt led off with her first hit of the game. After stealing second, she advanced to third on Bravo’s slap groundout. With one out and Hofstedt on third, Bell put down the sacrifice bunt for the squeeze play, scoring the second run of the game as Hofstedt crossed the plate.
BYU retired the Santa Clara side in order in the bottom of the fourth with the help of Bravo. She continued her defensive display as she sprinted to her right for the spectacular grab, snagging a hard hit ball for the first out of the inning.
Thompson led off the fifth with a double high off the wall in right field. After a Broderick walk, St. Clair bunted the runners over to second and third before Tauali’i also executed a sacrifice bunt for the second squeeze of the game, scoring Thompson.
Alexa Strid then followed with a two-out RBI single to the pitcher. She then stole second before Hofstedt drew her second walk of the season and then stole third when Hofstedt took her base after drawing ball four. With Bravo up to bat, Hofstedt stole her second base of the game, and Strid crossed home on a throwing error by the SCU catcher, bringing the tally to 5-0 before the top of the fifth ended.
BYU held on to the five-run advantage in the final three innings, using solid defensive play including St. Clair’s diving catch in the seventh.
Game three of the series between the Cougars and Broncos begins Saturday at noon PDT. Live stats are available through the BYU softball schedule page.
BYU softball will hold walk-on tryouts at Gail Miller Field on Friday, Sept. 8 at 2 p.m. MDT.