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Utah Softball has a Surprisingly Strong Season

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The Utah softball team has far exceeded preseason expectations. They are ranked for the first time since 2001. They close out their season this weekend against Washington.

The No. 22 Utah Utes softball team (33-16, 11-10 Pac-12) will close out the 2015 regular season at home this Thursday-Saturday, May 7-9, against the No. 20 Washington Huskies (39-14, 10-10 Pac-12) at Dumke Family Softball Stadium. The first pitch scheduled for 6:05 p.m. on Thursday. The two squads will play on Friday at 5:05 p.m. before closing out the series on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. The softball team looks to close out the season winning a sixth straight Pac-12 series.

The softball team has been a positive surprise this season. In the preseason, they were picked to finish sixth out of nine teams (1. Oregon (5), 61, 2. UCLA (4), 60, 3. Arizona, 46, 3. Washington, 46, 5. Arizona State, 37, 6. Utah, 26, 7. California, 21, 8. Oregon State, 15, and 9. Stanford, 12). They are currently in fourth with a half game lead on both Washington and Arizona State. Utah softball has series wins against ranked Pac-12 opponents No. 18 Arizona (their first ever series win over the Wildcats), No. 19 California, and No. 23 Arizona State. They also defeated No. 12 ranked Tennessee. All of these wins against ranked opponents has helped lift Utah softball into the top 25. For the week of April 28, Utah was ranked No. 24 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, which is the first time in school history to be ranked in that poll and first time to be nationally ranked by either the NFCA or ESPN.com polls since 2001, when Utah checked in at No. 25 in the NFCA preseason poll on Jan. 24. This week, Utah moved up to No. 22. The No. 22 national ranking marks the highest ranking for the softball program since checking in at No. 20 in the NFCA/USA Today Final Top 25 Poll back on May 31, 2000, and it is the first time that the Utes have collected a national ranking in back-to-back weeks since 1998.

Utah has won 33 games on the season, marking the most victories for the program since notching 40 victories back in 2006. The 33 victories are the most under head coach Amy Hogue. The Utes, who are 11-10 in Pac-12 play heading into the weekend, have already won more Pac-12 games in its four years of being in the league. With just one more victory, the Utes will record its first non-losing record in conference play as well. A pair of wins over Washington would assure the Utes of its first-ever Pac-12 winning record since joining the league back in 2012.

The Utes have had individual success this season as well. Utah sophomore Hannah Flippen won the Pac-12 Conference Softball Player of the Week twice this season. Katie Donovan was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week back on April 27, giving Utah a Pac-12 weekly honor for five straight weeks and sixth overall on the season. The streak, which opened with Miranda Viramontes being named Freshman of the Week back on Mar. 30, continued with Hannah Flippen earning Player of the Week honors on Apr. 6 and Apr. 20, and Heather Bowen earning Freshman of the Week accolades back on Apr. 13. Donovan added to that streak last week, earning her second accolade of the season after earning the same weekly award back on Feb. 23. Flippen is the first Utah player to win Pac-12 Conference Softball Player of the Week twice in one season. Kate Dickman recorded a pair of doubles in Utah's series at Arizona State, giving her 18 for the season and breaking the previous school record of 17 doubles that was set by both Glennis Donnelly (2004) and Sunny Smith (2000). Dickman, who set the all-time record for doubles in a career earlier this season, has 58 doubles in her four seasons with the Utes. She also tied a single-game school record with three doubles against Southern Utah back on March 31, in Salt Lake City. Katie Donovan tied a 29-year-old single-season school record with her sixth save of the year when she closed out Utah's 4-2 win over Arizona back on Apr. 19.

Donovan, who currently ranks first in the Pac-12 and sixth in the nation in saves, became just the second Utah player ever to record six saves in a season, tying the mark that Carolyn Gran set back in 1986.

Washington heads into the final weekend of play coming off a 2-1 series win over Oregon State in Seattle. The Huskies won in a walk-off in game one, fell 14-8 to the Beavers in game two, but then took the finale 17-11. UW's Ali Aguilar leads the way offensively, hitting .434 with a team-high 23 doubles and ranks second on the squad with 15 homers. Courtney Gano, who is hitting .335 on the season, leads UW with 18 home runs and 59 RBI on the year. UW is led in the circle by Kasey Stancheck, who is 13-7 with a 4.73 ERA and 81 strikeouts. Casey Stangel, who is 9-3 on the season, leads UW with a 4.24 ERA. The Huskies have a combined 4.91 overall team ERA on the season, but it jumps to 8.47 against opponents in the Pac-12. The Huskies lead the all-time series, 21-3, after both teams split the season series in 2014. UW won game one 5-2, but Utah came back to down the Huskies 3-2 in nine innings in game two. Game three was canceled due to rain.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Mariah Ramirez gives <a href="https://twitter.com/Utah_Softball">@Utah_Softball</a> the insurance it needed in the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/UTAHvsASU?src=hash">#UTAHvsASU</a> Play of the Game: <a href="http://t.co/SjtQvnjSSl">http://t.co/SjtQvnjSSl</a></p>&mdash; Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) <a href="https://twitter.com/Pac12Networks/status/592450049285685249">April 26, 2015</a></blockquote>

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