Wildcat Softball Returns: A look back at opening weekend
(Photo taken by Weber State University
By Joe Traub
One might say it was a fairly long wait for the Weber State softball squad to make their grand return to the field.
Flash back a year, the team had started a highly-anticipated 2020 campaign with a record of 10-14 in pre-conference play tournaments when the news came crashing down. The remainder of NCAA spring sports were wiped out entirely, and the Wildcats never had a chance to play a home game.
But enough negativity, the 2021 season has started on time in the hopes for an uninterrupted run to stay on top, as Weber State is favored to win their fifth consecutive regular season Big Sky Conference title based on preseason polls. Several players were granted an extra year of eligibility, including first baseman Ashlyn Visser, who has slugged 12 home runs while driving in 91 over the last three seasons.
The Wildcats hit the road for sunny Phoenix late last week to participate in the Grand Canyon Kickoff. Despite a rocky beginning on Friday, Weber State rallied to win two of their last three games in the desert and finished opening weekend with a record of 2-3.
It was a long opening day, as the ‘Cats were swept in their initial doubleheader by a combined score of 17-2 to Oregon and Grand Canyon, respectively.
However, what better way to earn your first victory of the season than doing so against perhaps the institution’s most bitter conference rival?
Weber State earned a 9-5 triumph over the dreaded University of Montana Grizzlies in a see-saw battle Saturday morning. They did so with steady production up and down the lineup - for starters, the number one and nine hitters (freshman outfielders Mia Rushton and Noelle Foster) each had three knocks. The ‘Cats put up six combined tallies between the fourth and fifth innings, and Foster keyed both outbursts - a solo homer in the fourth, then an RBI double a frame later.
Foster’s knock tied the contest at 5 in the fifth before her team opened up the floodgates. Sophomore infielder McKell McCuistion gave Weber the lead for good on a two-run single up the middle, then Visser capped the four-run explosion with her second run-scoring double of the day. For good measure, the Wildcats plated another run in the sixth inning when sophomore utility player Katelyn Whiting doubled in Faith Hoe.
Whiting saw sporadic playing time in her first two seasons as a Wildcat, but it appears head coach Mary Kay Amicone and her staff view a more prominent role for her in 2021. Whiting has started each of the five games and supplied power on Friday as well, with Weber State’s first home run of the campaign in an 8-2 setback to GCU.
The ‘Cats were humbled in Saturday’s finale. Facing a top-ten D1 team in Oregon, the Ducks blanked Weber State for the second time in as many days, this time by a final of 8-0 in a game shortened to five innings due to a mercy rule.
Sunday saw the most complete performance by the Wildcats over the weekend, as they controlled the contest against tournament host GCU from start to finish in a 6-2 triumph over the Antelopes. The story of the afternoon was sophomore starting pitcher Mariah Ramirez, who came within one out of a complete-game shutout and also chipped in two hits, including an RBI double. Ramirez allowed just five singles (three coming with two outs in the seventh) while walking three and fanning five. Freshman utility player Saree-Ann Kekahuna started at the hot corner Sunday and had a breakout game, delivering three separate run-scoring knocks to key Weber State’s offense.
Luckily for the ‘Cats, their return to the bitter cold temperatures of Ogden will be brief, as they again hit the road this weekend. With the temperatures in Las Vegas, Nevada expected to be in the mid-60s, Weber State will be one of four teams participating in the UNLV Desert Classic.
The Wildcats open their second weekend of competition with a 10 a.m. first pitch against the University of Utah Utes on Friday, then face UNLV and California Baptist two times each for the remainder of their stay in Sin City.
With sports all across the Big Sky Conference booming once again, it is an exciting time for Weber State fans, even if attendance is limited at events. Details are still being worked out in regards to fans attending softball games in 2021, but the softball team is expected to return to the Wildcat Softball Field on March 16 for their home opener against Utah Valley.
If teams stay COVID-free and are able to remain on the field, that game would mark the first time the Wildcats host a game at their beautiful complex in 696 days. The very last time the team played at home, it marked one of the most memorable finishes in Wildcat history.
On a stunningly beautiful afternoon of April 20, 2019, Chloe Camarero launched a walk-off home run in the eighth inning to give Weber State a 2-1 victory over Montana on Senior Day. The team went on to win the Big Sky Tournament that year, and then claimed the first ever victory by a Big Sky team in an NCAA Tournament matchup.
Here’s hoping there will be many memories like this for Wildcat fans to enjoy this spring.