Editor's note: Due to incorrect information on the game broadcast, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated the tournament MVP. The Standard-Examiner regrets the error.
Though 700 miles from home, Weber State softball concluded its run through the Big Sky Conference the same weekend thousands descended upon Ogden for Golden Spike sesquicentennial festivities.
The Wildcats paid homage by becoming a runaway freight train, concluding a run of 19 wins in 21 contests with a convincing 8-0 win over Northern Colorado in five innings Saturday to become Big Sky Tournament champions, punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Weber State delivered on its regular season with the tournament title, following a 14-2 conference mark that represented the league's best-ever winning percentage with a quick run through the tournament held in Sacramento, California.
"I always have that optimism ... it is a very competitive conference and to be able to be consistent with our performance is such a tribute to our team," head coach Mary Kay Amicone said.
Weber State became a better first-inning team as the tournament progressed. WSU scored two runs to begin its opener against Portland State, three in Friday's win over Northern Colorado, then six first-frame scores in Saturday's championship game.
The onslaught began with Takesha Saltern drawing a leadoff walk, Landi Hawker following with a bunt single and Ashlyn Visser driving a single. From there, singles from Faith Hoe, Sadie Blacker, Lauren Hoe and Courtney Pestka drove in runs to make it 5-0. Lauren Hoe scored on an error and WSU held a 6-0 lead before the Bears came to bat.
"Every game there is a different hero … our team just feeds off each other," freshman second baseman Faith Hoe said. "Anybody can do it in the lineup and that’s the coolest part, one through nine and even on the bench, there’s so much confidence in each other. We for sure feed off each other that we always have a chance, and we totally believe that."
Visser and Faith Hoe hit consecutive doubles in the second inning, extending the lead to 7-0.
In the fourth, Faith Hoe hustled for a two-out double on a liner that glanced off the glove of shortstop Mady Young. That set up Blacker, who lined an RBI base hit which allowed for the eventual run-rule shortened victory.
Addie Jensen picked up the win in the circle, giving up two hits while striking out four. Jensen threw 17 1/3 innings in the tournament, allowing three earned runs and pitching to two wins and one save.
Faith Hoe was named tournament MVP. She hit 6 for 11 with three RBIs, two doubles and four runs scored in the tournament. She also claimed Big Sky freshman of the year honors during the regular season.
Jensen, Hawker and Chloe Camarero joined Faith Hoe on the all-tournament team.
Including surviving Portland State in a 3-2, 10-inning win to open the tournament, WSU outscored opponents 21-6 in its three games.
Weber State (26-19) is now 22-5 after starting the season 4-14, going 17-2 against Big Sky competition.
"Earlier this season was really a struggle for us but it really gave us a lot to look back on … we learned a lot about our team, how we play and what makes us good," Faith Hoe said. "I think it was our first weekend (in league), it just clicked … from then on, we just really decided to play for each other and figured out that we were pretty good.
"Two months ago if you would’ve said we were going to be Big Sky champs ... I dunno. But we really just bought in and played for each other, and it took us a long ways."
WSU learns its NCAA Tournament destination during the selection show at 7 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2. The 64-team tournament begins with four-team regionals at 16 sites, hosted by the top 16 teams in the country.