Big Sky champion Weber State receives NCAA softball tourney bid; BYU, Utah left out

In this 2015 file photo, Weber State's softball team hoist the Big Sky Conference tournament championship trophy after defeating Sacramento State, 13-1, in five innings Saturday to win the Big Sky title. The Wildcats are headed to the Seattle Regional to face Texas after winning the conference regular season and tournament title.

In this 2015 file photo, Weber State's softball team hoist the Big Sky Conference tournament championship trophy after defeating Sacramento State, 13-1, in five innings Saturday to win the Big Sky title. The Wildcats are headed to the Seattle Regional to face Texas after winning the conference regular season and tournament title. (Justin J. Johnson, Weber State Athletics)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

PROVO β€” Three local softball teams entered Sunday's NCAA selection finale with a shot at the 64-team bracket.

Only one of them made it: Welcome to the big dance, Weber State.

The Wildcats (38-10, 13-1 Big Sky) will head to the Seattle Regional to face a field that also includes Lehigh and Texas, while in-state rivals BYU and Utah will head home despite similar RPI results as Weber State.

The Big Sky champion Wildcats open the tournament Friday at 3:30 p.m. MDT against Texas (38-17-1) on the Longhorn Network. No. 13-seeded Washington (35-15) will host Lehigh (30-18-1) in the other regional semifinal immediately following on ESPN+.

The full bracket is available on NCAA.com.

Led by legendary head coach Mary Kay Amicone, the Wildcats put together a historic season, clinching the program's 10th Big Sky title in school history and the second Big Sky Tournament title in three years with an 8-0 shutout of Sacramento State in Saturday's tournament title game behind the pitching of BYU transfer Arissa Henderson (16-1, 1.88 ERA).

"Unreal. This team is just so driven with such great leadership," Amicone said after the Big Sky Tournament final. "They're united and they have a fire that burns really hot. Their determination has been there in every practice, every situation. We've know what's at stake from the very beginning. This is a testament of their determination and their leadership. The way we ended last year has driven us for 12 months. It's going to take me at least a day to let this all soak in. The support has been incredible."

The surprise selection marks the first time since 2004 that BYU has not earned an NCAA Tournament invitation in years where the tournament was held (not counting the COVID-19 canceled season of 2020).

The Cougars had hopes Sunday of taking an at-large selection one day after clinching a conference championship β€” the program's 13th-straight league title dating back to 2009 in the Mountain West. But BYU shared this year's West Coast Conference title after tying Loyola Marymount with a 13-2 conference record, and the Lions earned the conference's automatic berth after taking two of three from the two teams' regular-season series because the conference doesn't hold a league tournament.

Still, the Cougars didn't go down easily. They finished the season with a 17-game winning streak, clinching a 42-10 regular season with a 10-0 win over Saint Mary's on senior day Saturday at Gail Miller Field.

Led by sluggers Huntyr Ava and Violet Zavodnik, BYU also boasted ace pitcher Autumn Moffat-Korth, who spun an 18-7 record with an ERA of 1.73 and seven shutouts.

"We are deeply disappointed we did not receive a bid to the NCAA tournament," BYU coach Gordon Eakin said. "This year's team is playing great softball and deserved a shot. We will respect the committee's decision and use it as a motivator to get better going forward."

But the series loss to LMU β€” the first in West Coast Conference play since the league began sponsoring the sport in 2014 kept the Cougars stunned when ESPN wrapped up the selection show with a rare mid-major hosted regional at UCF β€” the first by a team outside the Power Five conferences since James Madison in 2016. In seeding, the NCAA selection committee followed the RPI formula strongly, from No. 1 overall seed Oklahoma (49-1) to No. 16 UCF (45-12). Only No. 15 Texas did not draw a regional seed among the RPI's top 16.

Nine of the sixteen regional hosts came from the ACC and SEC, with only three regional sites located west of Texas, at Pac-12 schools Arizona State, UCLA and Washington.

Similarly, the Utes took hopes of a tourney bid after the final day of the regular season, thanks to a 5-3 road win over Oregon State to get back to a 27-27 record with their ninth win of Pac-12 play (9-15).

With the No. 46 RPI nationally β€” four spots ahead of Weber State and six ahead of BYU β€” Utah simply needed to take one win from a three-game season-finale series in Corvallis, Oregon, to clinch the .500 record needed to earn an at-large berth.

"We knew our strength of schedule needed to improve, so we went for it," said Utah coach Amy Hogue, whose team took at least one game off every Pac-12 team except league champion Arizona State. "It almost put us below .500, but I am excited at how it has prepared us. This is the best .500 team we've ever had."

NCAA Super Regionals are scheduled for May 26-29, with the top-eight teams advancing to the Women's College World Series beginning June 2 in Oklahoma City.

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has covered BYU for KSL.com since 2015, while also mixing in prep sports, education, and anything else his editors assign him to do.

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