ST. GEORGE — The Trailblazers softball team made its presence known on the Division I stage on Friday at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Dixie State was within one out of toppling No. 2 University of Washington in Dixie’s first game of its inaugural Division I campaign.
The Trailblazers, the designated road team, did not trail until the bottom of the sixth. It was a quiet game up until that point, with both teams combining for only one run. Once the bottom of the sixth started, however, all hell broke loose. The teams combined for nine total runs across the final inning and a half, including three lead changes.
Before a Huskies three-run rally in the sixth, the only offense came on as Washington pitcher overcooked a riser to Malory Eldredge with the bases loaded, pulling catcher Baylee Klingler out of her crouch with the ball deflecting to the backstop and allowing Kirsten Quigley to score.
Pitcher Carissa Burgess held the Huskies at bay until the sixth, allowing only two hits through the first five innings. But the sixth started differently with a Sis Bates single, blooping the first pitch of the frame down the third base line and into left field. Klingler showed bunt on the first pitch of the next at-bat before launching an opposite-field home run over the right field fence to give the Huskies the lead. SilentRain Espinoza hit a sacrifice fly to right to give Washington a third run and some cushion before the game went into its final inning.
Dixie faced its first adversity on the Division I level but responded immediately. Designated player Emma Sweet took the first offering in the inning into the left-center gap for a double. It was the Trailblazers’ first extra-base hit of the day. Brylee Rudd hit a single into right and they had the tying run on base with nobody out. After Quigley struck out, Hannah Hughbanks hit a ball off the base of the center field wall, scoring sweet and moving the tying run to third.
Washington’s Pat Moore then issued three straight walks to give Dixie the 4-3 lead. She was relieved for Sarah Willis, who induced a slow roller off the bat of Eldredge toward first base. Kelley Lynch scooped the ball up, touched the base and fired home where new catcher Emma Helm laid a tag on Meagan Anders at a close play at the plate. Anders was initially called out and the inning was over before the umpires converged and overturned their call, awarding Dixie its fourth run of the inning.
The ‘Blazers took the 5-3 lead into the bottom half and Burgess yielded a leadoff single before getting two quick outs on a foul pop up and a fielder’s choice. It brought Klingler back up to the plate, representing the tying run with two outs. After fouling off the first pitch, she turned on Burgess’ next delivery for her second two-run homer of the game to tie it up. Klingler also homered in Washington’s first game earlier in the day, an 8-0 rout of Southern Utah featuring a perfect game by Gabbie Plain.
The wheels came off. Burgess gave up a double to the next batter and plunked the one after that on the first offering. She walked the next two batters to score the winning run for Washington.
FINAL SCORE: Dixie State 5, Washington 6
— Dixie State Softball (@DIXIESTATESB) February 12, 2021
Dixie State took its first loss of the Division I era in heartbreaking fashion. It gives them a springboard going forward, however. It was a winnable game that simply saw Burgess, for one reason or another, pitch five outstanding innings before failing to miss bats and eventually lose control of the strike zone against one of the top programs in the nation. Washington finished 23-2 a year ago and features four players on the USA Softball Player of the Year watchlist.
Burgess finished with a final line of 6.2 innings pitched, six runs allowed (all earned) on seven hits with six walks and two strikeouts. Hughbanks was the only Blazer with multiple hits, going 2-for-3 with an RBI, run and a walk from the leadoff spot.
Dixie State will take on the host UNLV in the nightcap of the doubleheader. The Trailblazers play their first home contest on Tuesday, taking on Southern Utah at Karl Brooks Field.
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