Diana Phillips closed out her career in the top five at Utah in several categories.
June 17, 2008
The Utah softball team entered the 2008 season full of optimism behind first-year head coach Amy Hogue. Although the Utes were picked to finish last in the Mountain West Conference by the league's coaches to start the season, Utah battled for first-place in the league up until the final weekend of the season.
"We showed promise in several different ways," Hogue said. "We showed success on the mound where we beat good teams and got big wins with our pitching and our defense. Other games we shined with offense. There were games where we showed some fight and perseverance, coming from behind to win."
The year began with a 5-0 record at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Feb. 8-10. After the sweep, the Utes earned votes in the ESPN.com/USA Today Top-25 poll. From there, Utah traveled to the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Included in the games was a close 3-2 loss to then-No. 25 Oregon State.
Utah upset its first top-25 team of the year at the Texas Classic, downing then-No. 22 Texas, 5-4, on Feb. 29.
After struggling at the Diamond Devil Invitational, which included a loss to eventual national champion Arizona State, Utah played its first home game on March 11, a doubleheader against Southern Utah. The result in game one was the first no-hitter of Ashley Smuda's career. She struck out seven in the five-inning, 8-0 victory.
The San Diego State Classic featured a close loss to eventual national runner-up Texas A&M, 3-1, with wins over San Diego and Cal-State Fullerton. The final tournament of the season was the Judi Garman Classic, March 19-22, where Utah had one of its biggest wins of the season over then-No. 14 DePaul, 3-2. Utah also lost a tight game in a rematch against Arizona State, 3-0.
The Utes opened the conference campaign at home in April with a four-game series against Colorado State and New Mexico, walking away from the weekend with a 2-2 record. Kara Foster was named the MWC Player of the Week, going 7-for-10 with six RBI and two home runs.
Utah closed out the weekend with a sweep of UNLV, winning 4-3 on Friday while Smuda tossed her second no-hitter of the year on Saturday in a 4-0 win. She had five strikeouts and was named MWC Pitcher of the Week for her performance. Smuda is the first Ute pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a season since Ali Andrus-Sagas in 1997.
The Utes faced rival BYU in Provo on April 18. After falling in five innings in Friday's game, Utah rallied to win on Saturday, 6-4.
Utah began the second half of the conference season with a doubleheader sweep of UNLV on April 24. The Utes also split with then-No. 19 San Diego State, dropping game one, 13-3, before a thrilling eight-inning victory in game two, 2-1. Meghan Crouse scored on a wild pitch to score the game-winning run in the second game. Smuda again earned MWC Pitcher of the Week honors with a 3-0 week on the mound.
May began with a second series against BYU in Salt Lake City. The two games were some of the most thrilling of the season for fans of both teams. Although Utah dropped Friday's game, 5-4, with a late-inning comeback by the Cougars, the Utes got their revenge with a 4-3 extra-inning victory on Saturday. Staci Hemingway scored off an error for the game-winning run.
The Utes closed out the season the next weekend at New Mexico and Colorado State. Although Utah was battling for first in the conference going into the weekend, they finished the season third with a 10-10 record.
"We made some positive steps forward, from where we started as a group to where we ended." Hogue said. "There were days when they believed they were good enough to beat a good team, and they did. What I want to do better next year is show a little more consistency."
Three players were named to the All-MWC team, led by Diana Phillips, who was also named All-West Region. Phillips closes out her career ranked in the top-five at Utah in batting average (.360), hits (245), runs (131) and triples (14). She was selected to the All-MWC team for the fourth-straight season. She led the team and was third in the conference with a .382 batting average. Her 66 hits was tied for third in the MWC while her .437 on-base percentage, four triples and 21 stolen bases also ranked in the top-10.
"We ran everything around Diana," Hogue said. "She brought an intangible that there are no words to describe. She showed up every day and you knew exactly what you were going to get. She will catch anything in her vicinity and she can throw people out, and she is a tough out at the plate."
Kara Foster made her first all-conference team. She finished the year ranked eighth in the country in home runs per game (0.33). Foster was also ranked in the top-20 in home runs (18), slugging percentage (.781) and batting average (.342). She tied for second in the conference in home runs. Foster had 53 hits during the season, over half of which were extra-base hits. She also led the Utes with 39 RBI.
Smuda also finished her first year with All-MWC recognition after leading the conference with 69 batters struck out looking. In addition to two no-hitters, she finished the season third in the conference with 18 wins. Smuda was also in the top five in the conference in ERA (2.76), innings pitched (218.1), games started (35) and appearances (43).
Five women finished their careers at Utah - Phillips, Keller, Crouse, Kelly Matthews and Devina Quintero. Matthews finished the season fifth in the MWC with 19 stolen bases. Quintero was fourth on the team with a .302 batting average, including 12 doubles and 29 RBI. Keller had a strong season after moving to the outfield in the fall, batting .252. She also had 12 doubles.
"Our entire outfield was steady," Hogue said of Phillips, Keller, Crouse and Matthews. "They didn't get a lot of focus, but they took care of themselves. They were just steady. You take that for granted sometimes."
Angie Boardman finished her first season third on the team with a .321 average. She was seventh in the conference with a .441 on-base percentage.
In addition to Smuda, Brittany Parker had a strong freshman season on the mound, finishing the year fifth in the conference with 136 strikeouts. She was also in the top 10 in the MWC in innings pitched (135.2), wins (10) and appearances (35).
"Brittany made some big strides forward," Hogue said. "Freshmen usually don't get a chance to come in and get that many innings. She went into Texas and struck out 13 with a pitch she had just learned. She knows exactly what she needs to do to win games at this level.
"Both Ashley and Brittany got good experience, both positive and negative, on the mound this season. Both had the opportunity to learn something. They started, closed, and were replaced at random times. They got everything they could have asked for."