In run-rule fashion, Weber State softball wins 6th straight Big Sky regular-season title
OGDEN — Weber State second baseman Faith Hoe fouled a ball hard off her knee to go down in the count 1-2.
Leading Sacramento State 7-0 in the fifth inning and with two runners aboard Saturday afternoon, Weber State was one swing from ending the game via run rule and, with a week still left in the schedule, clinching a sixth consecutive regular-season Big Sky Conference softball championship.
But Hoe could hardly stand up. She barely moved out of the immediate area surrounding home plate and propped herself up with her bat as she bent over in pain.
“I honestly thought I was going to get carted off. It hurt so bad,” Hoe said. “Once I kind of caught my breath, I thought I was OK … and at that point, let’s just finish this at-bat, let’s get it done.”
Perhaps there was something about the focus required to push past that pain and step back into the box. Or, maybe, as Hoe put it: it’s embarrassing to take a hit, need a break and then strike out.
So on the very next pitch, Hoe sprayed a single to left field. Shortstop Makayla Donahoo rounded third and, though a short-hop throw beat her home, slid around a tag attempt to score, sending her Wildcat teammates pouring out of the home dugout to celebrate the championship.
“That’s Faith. She’s tough as nails, knows what’s going on. Her softball IQ is off the charts,” WSU head coach Mary Kay Amicone said. “She put herself in a position to make solid contact and she did.”
Every completed regular season since 2016 now has a Weber State trophy attached to it, and five of those are outright championships for the Wildcats.
Not only was Sacramento State (25-23, 9-6 Big Sky) the latest second-place challenger to slide back after playing Weber State, but the Wildcats (35-10, 13-1) dominated the three-game series by a total score of 20-4 and the Hornets scored in only one of the weekend’s 19 innings.
After Friday’s results, WSU entered Saturday knowing a win meant lifting a trophy. Amicone credited her team’s focus in sticking to the “process-oriented stuff” that has built her program.
“We just wanted to do it at home. Last year, we were able to do it at home too and that celebration with the fans and bringing out the trophy is something we wanted again,” Hoe said. “But it was more about our seniors, make sure we win on senior night for them and send them off right.”
Senior pitcher Arissa Henderson tossed a five-hit shutout, running her season record to 15-1 in the circle, striking out four and walking one. Henderson, Chloe Camarero, Brooke Moeai and Abi Sagert were honored after the game during a graduation ceremony.
“I was really proud of our team,” Hoe said. “A quality of a good team is that the other team doesn’t play well, we put so much pressure on them that they throw the ball around and I thought our baserunning was so good … and that takes pressure off your hitting.
“Our team was just tough. Our defense was solid, our pitching was great and we hit the ball well.”
The Wildcats chased Sac State ace Marissa Bertuccio for the second time in the series, something only delayed after Weber State left the bases loaded in the first inning.
McKell McCuiston hit a sac fly to score one in the first, and Henderson showed up with her bat again for a solo homer to centerfield in the third inning for a 2-0 lead.
WSU ran off Bertuccio in a five-run fourth that included RBI singles from McCuiston, Camarero and KC Whiting. And, for at least the third time in the series, aggressive baserunning by a trail runner forced the Hornets into a decision with the ball when Hoe stole second, allowing Donahoo to take home.
“Our culture is aggression. And I’m looking at our alumni standing over here, with (Takesha Saltern) and Landi (Hawker), when they were in the program we established that aggression,” Amicone said. “It’s just part of what we do and if it’s open, we take it.”
Sacramento State didn’t get a runner past second base after the first inning, and two Henderson strikeouts in the top of the fifth helped set up Hoe’s winning swing in the bottom half.
Weber State finishes the regular-season slate with a three-game series at now-second-place Portland State (26-16, 10-5) next week. With a title won, meaning this season’s No. 1 seed and tournament hosting rights for 2023 are both secure, Amicone said nothing will change about how WSU plays.
“It all comes back to what we believe in, and that’s getting 1% better every time we play. Just like today. Did we get better? We did,” Amicone said. “It’s always different people in those running situations or timely hitting — so we just go about our business, go to work and we want to be playing our best when the best is needed.”
It’s not as if there’s nothing to play for at Portland State, either. At 35-10 overall — and with three wins over the Mountain West’s top two teams and another over Texas A&M, for example — the Wildcats have a resume that could (should?) get them off the No. 4 line in a four-team NCAA Tournament regional.
But that’s looking too far ahead. PSU boasts the conference’s best pitcher in Olivia Grey. It was her arm that propelled the Vikings to last year’s tournament championship on Weber State’s field, and it’s the same arm the Wildcats and everyone else will have to reckon with two weeks from now in Ogden. WSU went 0-2 and was quickly eliminated from the 2021 tournament.
“We always talk about lessons we’ve learned, and there are costly ones and non-costly ones. Last year was pretty costly, it cost us at the end of the year,” Hoe said. “Most everybody is returning and we remember that feeling. There was a point last year where … we just kind of started declining.
“This year, we’re getting better every day. We want to take care of business and win, but if we got better every day, we can walk away knowing we reached our goals. It’s important that we are conference champions, but we want to be tournament conference champions.”