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  • Joe Traub

SOFTBALL: Wildcats Off to Hot Conference Start, Face Northern Colorado This Weekend

Freshman OF Mia Rushton

Photo Credit: Weber State Athletics

Over the last several seasons, the Weber State softball team has made a habit of dominating conference play and quickly distancing themselves from the rest of the pack in the Big Sky.

Despite a world-altering pandemic that wiped out the entirety of their conference schedule last season, Mary Kay Amicone’s squad has shown that they haven’t missed a beat in 2021. The Wildcats have emerged victorious in each of their first six Big Sky contests this year, following up a dominant home series sweep against Idaho State with a trio of nail-biting victories over the Sac State Hornets in California’s capital city.

The conference standings are currently unbalanced due to the fact not all teams have played the same amount of games, but the bottom line is Weber State’s 6-0 record puts them in first place, a game ahead of a resurgent Southern Utah squad as the T-Birds have won five of their first six against conference foes.

The ‘Cats have now won 23 of their last 25 conference games (including postseason) dating back to the start of the 2019 season, as they look to claim at least a share of the regular-season title for a sixth consecutive campaign. In that timeframe, Weber State has also hoisted the conference tournament trophy on three separate occasions. The last time the NCAA Tournament was played, the Wildcats defeated Cal State Fullerton to mark the first time a Big Sky team ever won a game in the big dance.

A quality offense is often keyed by the production of a leadoff hitter, and freshman Mia Rushton has checked all the boxes for Weber State. She has started all 28 of the ‘Cats contests so far and leads the team with a .358 batting average. Rushton led the way with four hits in a 19-0 whitewashing of Idaho State in the second game of a doubleheader on March 27, then keyed a rally to help put an end to a long day of softball last Friday in Sacramento. She led off the tenth inning with a double before coming around to score on a base hit by Chloe Camarero as the Wildcats outlasted the Hornets 10-9 to secure a doubleheader sweep in a nightcap that was nearly a disaster. WSU tacked on four insurance runs in the top of the seventh for a seemingly comfortable 9-3 lead, but Sac State stormed back with a stunning six-run outburst in the bottom of the frame.

Camarero homered twice in Game 2 of Friday’s twinbill as she continues her second consecutive full season of steady production as the primary third hitter in Amicone’s lineup. She leads the team with 24 runs batted in, and Mother Nature robbed her of a Ripley’s Believe It or Not moment. Camarero hit a walk-off home run to lead the Wildcats past Montana on April 20, 2019, the final home game of that season. The squad never got to take their home field in 2020 due to COVID, so they had to wait until March 23 to finally play at Wildcat Softball Field again. In Camarero’s first plate appearance of that game against Utah State, she bashed a two-run homer to center field, meaning she bookended scoring for the Wildcats at home with long balls 703 days apart. The only problem? Well, it was March in Utah, and a spring storm brought a substantial amount of snow to the Ogden area, forcing the game to be called after just two innings. The ‘Cats and Aggies will not make that contest up, meaning no stats from that game will count.

The recent emergence of Amanda Sink in the circle has been another bright spot for Weber State. She is still considered a freshman after starting her career in the severely truncated 2020 campaign, and has become one of the go-to arms this season. Sink is 3-2 with a 4.34 ERA in 14 games and was just named Big Sky Pitcher of the Week after earning two victories in Sacramento over the weekend. This included a scoreless start of four innings on Saturday in which her toughness showed up in a major way. With Weber State leading 3-0, the Hornets loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth, but it was no problem for Sink. She struck out a batter, then induced a double play grounder to keep the Hornets off the board before Kate Donaldson closed out the shutout with three superb innings of her own.

Perhaps the most impressive sustained performance by a Wildcat so far this season belongs to Mariah Ramirez. She has been a workhorse in the circle, pitching a team-high 66 innings and leading the team with an 8-4 record while also compiling a tidy 3.18 ERA. Her bat has possibly even been more electric. Ramirez is hitting .321 in 19 games with three home runs and ten batted in. A large chunk of this damage came in the first game of a doubleheader at Dixie State on March 19, when Ramirez went 3-for-5 with a pair of long balls while knocking in five. Oh, right...she also pitched five innings and earned the win. Ramirez > Ohtani?

The twin sisters returned this year for their second full seasons as Wildcats. Faith and Lauren Hoe have not disappointed, batting .301 and .316, respectively. Each has four home runs with Lauren also mashing eight doubles to date, leading to an exceptional slugging percentage of .579 for Weber State’s backstop.

With yet another trophy for this team seemingly in sight, the Wildcats will look to take the next step towards making that dream a reality as the Northern Colorado Bears rumble into Ogden this weekend. The Bears are 5-4 in conference play after a three-game sweep of Montana.

Weber State fans will have good memories of last time they took on Northern Colorado, as they defeated the Bears twice in the 2019 conference tournament, including an 8-0 mercy rule victory in the championship game to advance. However, the ‘Cats will look to erase a bitter taste that stems from UNCO’s last visit to Wildcat Softball Field. Northern Colorado was first up for Weber State in the 2018 conference tourney (hosted by WSU) and dealt the Wildcats a 6-3 defeat to put them on the brink of elimination, which ended up happening after a loss to Portland State the following day.

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