BYU rode two big innings and a shutdown performance by pitcher McKenna Bull to win the first game of the 2017 Puerto Vallarta College Challenge over Nebraska in a mercy-rule game that went 4 ½ innings.
In the first game of the entire college softball schedule, the Cougars (1-0) scored five runs in the second inning and five more in the third – Libby Sugg launched a three-run homer to centerfield in the second and closed with five RBI on the day. Ashley Thompson drove in three runs, and freshman Rylee Jensen started her career with a bang at the leadoff spot, notching four hits and three runs.
Bull allowed just one hit, a home run by Austen Urness with two outs in the fourth inning. She walked one batter and struck out six.
Nebraska starting pitcher Kaylan Jablonski had some bad luck in the early going as several softly hit balls went as hits, but later on the Cougars were squaring up the ball to fuel those big innings. Nebraska (0-1) used three pitchers overall.
Unbelievable competition, in an unusually gorgeous setting, and uncommon energy for the start of the college softball season.
Understandably, the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge has captured the attention of sports fans inside and outside the United States.
The five teams attending Session 1 of the event – Auburn, BYU, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Washington – went through lively practice sessions at Nancy Almaraz Stadium, the host field in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Groups of fans for these powerful softball programs also made their presence known, enjoying the sunshine and camaraderie before action begins in earnest Thursday morning.
As has been noted, this event includes preseason No. 1 and defending national champion Oklahoma along with NCAA runner-up and preseason No. 2 Auburn. Washington hit No. 13 in the early polls, while both BYU and Nebraska received Top 25 votes.
Here’s the schedule for Thursday:
BYU vs. Nebraska – 10 a.m. CT, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN 3)
Oklahoma vs. Auburn – 1 p.m. CT, 2 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Oklahoma vs. BYU – 4 p.m. CT, 5 p.m. ET
Auburn vs. Washington – 7 p.m. CT, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
The Auburn-Oklahoma matchup marks the first time in NCAA softball history that the two teams who competed for the last national title wound up playing each other to start the next campaign. While the Tigers are certainly brimming with talent and have reason for optimism in 2017, it’s not like the pain of coming up short has disappeared.
“Quite the contrary, we are realists. We didn’t take care of business. We make no excuses – Oklahoma beat us because they didn’t make any mistakes or give us extra opportunities," said Auburn head coach Clint Myers. "We had opportunities and we didn’t do the little things that national champions do. Attention to detail and to the little things has been our focal point so far.”
And from the Sooners’ perspective, all the handshakes and warm response from the softball community at large have to get filed away. Head coach Patty Gasso has said the No. 1 ranking is really a testament to last year’s team, and the 2017 OU program must earn its own reputation.
“You’ve got to move forward. It was a great experience that will live in the history or our program, but it’s unfair to this new team to keep living in the past," she said. "Once we got back on campus, it was a clean state, start over and let’s get to work. A lot of people ask about the pressure, and we try to not get caught up in that. This is truly a new road.”
The rest of Session 1 unfolds as follows:
Feb. 10 – Oklahoma vs. Nebraska (11 a.m. CT)
Nebraska vs. Auburn (2 p.m. CT)
BYU vs. Washington (7 p.m. CT)
Feb. 11 – BYU vs. Auburn (10 a.m. CT)
Nebraska vs. Washington (12:45 p.m. CT)
Oklahoma vs. Washington (3:30 p.m. CT)
With collegiate softball’s national profile on the rise, it will be an international setting that grabs the attention Feb. 9-11 when defending champion and preseason No. 1 Oklahoma joins No. 2 Auburn at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge.
Along with three other impressive programs (No. 13 Washington, Nebraska and BYU), the event puts a remarkably powerful field of teams on display in a unique setting at the refurbished but very intimate Nancy Almaraz Stadium in Puerto Vallarta. Three of the four games on the slate Thursday, Feb. 9 will be aired by ESPNU/ESPN3:
Nebraska vs. BYU, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN3): WATCH HERE
Auburn vs. Oklahoma, 2 p.m. ET (ESPNU): WATCH HERE
Washington vs. Auburn, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3): WATCH HERE
(The BYU-Oklahoma game at 5 p.m. ET will not be televised)
This is just the second time an NCAA softball event has been held outside the USA, after the 2015 PV Challenge featuring BYU, Nevada, Illinois State and Southern Illinois. The event is the result of a years-long relationship between the city of Puerto Vallarta and Triple Crown Sports.
The Auburn-Oklahoma game marks what may be an unprecedented moment in NCAA softball, where the two teams that met for the Women’s College World Series title play each other to start the following season. The Sooners topped the Tigers in the three-game series, 2-1, scoring two runs in the first inning of Game 3 and holding on for a 2-1 victory.
“This unique event features a dream field of teams in a facility and community that will make the fans and players feel special,” said David King, CEO of Triple Crown Sports. “People get to experience the sun, the beach and the opportunity to enjoy authentic Mexico with the best softball teams going. What could be better?”
Session 1 of the Puerto Vallarta Challenge continues with three games on Feb. 10 and three more on Feb. 11.
Session 2 is set for Feb. 16-19 and features another strong group of programs – Cal State Fullerton, Florida Gulf Coast, Fresno State, Mississippi State and Texas Tech.