1 out from advancing, Weber State falls to Lehigh 5-4 and sees historic season end
The difference between elation and agony was incredibly small in the NCAA Tournament softball regional elimination game between Weber State and Lehigh on Saturday in Seattle.
And, one out from repeating 2019’s history by recording an NCAA Tournament win, Weber State’s journey flipped from having at least one more moment on the diamond to its season ending in just a few plays.
Lehigh rallied for three runs in the seventh inning and defeated Weber State 5-4.
The Mountain Hawks advanced to play host Washington in another elimination game late into the night while the Wildcats were left to figure out what happened and come to grips with the sudden end.
With starting pitcher Mariah Ramirez dealing — she struck out eight total, induced a high amount of swings-and-misses, and didn’t walk any batters until the fifth inning — Weber State claimed a 4-1 lead in the fifth with some high-pressure baserunning and timely hitting.
But Lehigh’s home run and RBI leader Jaelynn Chesson came through for the Mountain Hawks (31-19). Chesson smacked a solo homer to right-center in the top of the sixth to make it 4-2.
A potential rally that inning was undone when, after a walk and a strikeout, a Lehigh runner went into second base spikes high as Faith Hoe tried to turn a double play. Hoe came out of it with a rip in her pants at the top of her right knee, and the umpire called the batter out on interference from the lead baserunner.
To lead off the top of the seventh, Lehigh catcher Amanda Greaney fouled off four straight pitches from Ramirez with a full count, then drew a walk on the 10th pitch of the at-bat.
That sparked a decision from WSU to replace Ramirez with Arissa Henderson. Rory Dudley welcomed Henderson with a single.
Josie Charles grounded to short and beat the throw to first, but was called out; Lehigh had no more challenges left and the call stood, but the tying runners still advanced to scoring position.
The Mountain Hawks’ top-average hitter Carley Barjaktarovich fouled off a full-count pitch before drawing a walk to load the bases. But Henderson then got Emily Cimino to tap back to the circle. Henderson easily got the lead runner out at the plate, but Lauren Hoe’s relay to first to end the game with a double play was not in time.
Still, WSU had pulled to within one out of victory with a two-run lead. And that’s when Chesson came through again.
After falling behind 0-2 to Henderson, Chesson went with a pitch the opposite way up the middle on the second-base side. Faith Hoe made a stellar diving stop to her right to keep the ball in the infield but skidded awkwardly and had her glove turn over as she tried to stop and get up to make a play.
Dudley scored on the initial hit and, in a common tactic on a two-out grounder, Barjaktarovich rounded third at nearly full speed. The depth and awkwardness of Hoe’s diving stab made it tough to rise up and make a play, and Barjaktarovich beat the throw home to tie the game 4-4.
WSU then intentionally walked clean-up hitter Addie Kittel to load the bases. Henderson fell behind Brooke Cannon 3-0 before battling back to a full count, only to walk Cannon and push across what proved to be the winning run.
Karsen O’Rourke, Lehigh’s ninth batter of the inning, grounded out to Faith Hoe at second base to end the inning with the bases still loaded.
Weber State built its 4-1 lead against pitcher Katelyn Young but couldn’t touch Gabrielle Nori after she came in to put out the fire in the fifth inning.
Nori faced nine Wildcats and gave up no hits, her only blemish a hit-by-pitch of KC Whiting in the sixth.
In the seventh, needing one run to extend the game, Mia Rushton struck out swinging, Faith Hoe flew out to centerfield, and Henderson popped out in foul territory behind first base.
Weber State broke through a pitchers’ duel in the bottom of the fourth when Henderson, who hit 4 for 7 in the regional, led off with a single. Marissa Cerda pinch-ran for Henderson and took second on a Chloe Camarero sacrifice bunt. McKell McCuiston cashed it in with a single to right field, scoring Cerda.
Then Noelle Foster, pinch-running for McCuiston, scored on a long Lauren Hoe single to left-center that slammed halfway up the wall for a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, Weber State asserted itself and appeared to be taking control of a win. Makayla Donahoo dribbled one to shortstop and beat the throw to lead off the frame. Rushton followed with a drag bunt up the third-base line and she, too, just beat the throw to first base.
After the pair executed a double steal, Faith Hoe hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring a tagging Donahoo for a 3-1 lead. Rushton then stole third base. She scored on a Henderson screamer over the third baseman’s head that hooked directly onto the left-field pained fair line for a double, making it 4-1.
That’s when Nori entered and kept the Wildcats from converting from scoring position what would have been a crucial run. Nori got Camarero to pop out in front of the plate and struck out McCuiston swinging to end the rally.
Though losses were rare in Weber State’s 38-12 season, it repeated a feat several WSU opponents were able to manage in late innings. Grand Canyon scored runs in the sixth and seventh to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 win; Cal State Fullerton, who eliminated LSU in the Tempe Regional on Saturday, scored seven runs in the sixth inning to turn a 4-1 hole into an 8-5 win over WSU; and Utah State scored three in the seventh to walk off WSU 11-10.
For the second time this weekend, Lehigh took a close game deep against Washington before the Huskies pulled away late, and Washington eliminated the Mountain Hawks 6-1 in Saturday’s late nightcap.
Saturday’s defeat, and five regular-season rainouts, kept this all-time Weber State squad from breaking its single-season record for wins, ending tied with the 2015 team at 38.
But several records will still stand, marks that will be tough to take out in the future.
The six-straight regular-season Big Sky champions set program and conference records for single-season winning percentage overall (.760) and in conference play (.929). These Wildcats also won 12 straight games in nonconference play, breaking 2019 and 2017 runs of 10 for the longest win-streak in program history.
And, these Wildcats finished with a program and conference record RPI ranking of 48 and were seeded third in an NCAA regional for the first time in Big Sky history.
WSU loses starters Henderson and Camarero to graduation; Camarero ranks top-10 all-time in a slew of statistical categories and Henderson turned in what is probably the best two-way season in program history.
Among the five players signed for 2022-23 is one who may be a consensus player of the year in Utah. Riverton’s Kaysen Korth enters the in-progress 6A playoffs final-eight with a 10-1 record, a 0.67 ERA, 238 strikeouts to 23 walks in 115 innings and an average-against of .086. She’s also hitting .543 at the plate.