BYU and Utah will fill the Ram softball home opener lineup this weekend, providing for their most important Mountain West Conference games thus far. Currently, BYU is No. 2 in the MWC. CSU is No. 3, and Utah No. 4.
The Rams kick off the weekend today with a doubleheader at 1 and 3 p.m. against the Utah. The Rams’ record of 22-9 shadows the Utes’ record of 12-17, but CSU knows Utah can still give it some tough competition.
“Jen Pursell established herself as a force in the MWC last year, and she is their ace and is going to be very challenging,” head coach Mary Yori said.
Pursell has a 1.86 ERA, with 12 complete games and a 6-9 record in 15 appearances. Utah’s overall team ERA is 2.25, a few points behind the MWC-best 1.57 by CSU.
Ute Niki Hayhurst has provided most of the team’s offense this season with a .309 batting average, three home runs and 14 RBIs. Sophomore Steph Roberts will look to get on base for the Rams with a team leading .330 batting average and 10 doubles.
CSU will try to work its way up the conference ladder again on Saturday with a doubleheader starting at noon against BYU. The Cougars’ 25-8 record and powerful offense will be a good test for CSU.
“We have worked on a lot of hitting because we are expecting a slugfest,” Yori said. “It will be good to play at home and hopefully we can play our game and do well individually. We are just hoping to hold them to a couple runs and try to get more than they do.”
Swinging the biggest bat for BYU is two-time All-American Oli Keohohou. She has a .449 batting average, 1.067 slugging percentage, 14 home runs and 37 RBIs. Keohohou has recently been picked as one of 25 candidates for the 2003 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award – similar to the Heisman Trophy in football – for the second straight year.
“Oli is really good. Hopefully we can stop her,” sophomore pitcher Melanie Mahoney said.
Keohohou’s 14 home runs outnumber the Rams’ team total by nine. The Cougars have knocked a total of 40 home runs out of the park this season.
Junior Ricki Walker leads the Rams with two home runs and is expected to have a strong presence at the plate with a .327 batting average.
The Rams will have to use their solid defense and successful pitching to their advantage. The team’s fielding percentage of .976 leads the MWC and is third best in school history. CSU has shut other teams out 10 times, three more than all of last season. The pitching staff has also only given up two home runs this year.
BYU leads the all-time series against the Rams 7-5, with both teams sweeping each other on the road last season. The Rams got the last laugh in the most recent game, which went to 16 innings and ended with the Rams on top 6-5.