Junior Pitcher Ariel Zimmerman
SUU Strategic Communications

Southern Utah Closes Out Season at BYU

April 29, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication

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CEDAR CITY, Utah - Southern Utah (16-30, 9-5 BSC) is headed to its first Big Sky Tournament after clinching a postseason berth in its final conference series this past weekend, but before they make the trip to playoffs on May 9-11, the Thunderbirds will travel to BYU (26-23, 15-5 PCSC) for a doubleheader Tuesday at 5 p.m. The Cougars have won nine of their last ten games and currently sit atop the standings in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference.

Coverage of SUU softball and live stats for the games are available online at www.suutbirds.com.

Mikkel Griffin hit her sixth home run of the season at Weber State to move into a tie for the team lead with Kadi Henderson. Griffin also ranks second on the team with a .317 batting average. Kelsey Bryant has hit five home runs and is first in the SUU lineup with a .349 batting average (including a mark of .471 in Big Sky games), 35 RBI, 16 doubles and 28 runs scored. Ariel Zimmerman leads SUU in the circle with an overall record of 10-17 including a mark of 6-4 in conference play.The junior pitcher has struck out 104 batters over 164.2 innings.

The Thunderbirds dropped two-of-three to visiting Northern Colorado over the weekend, but still locked up a spot in the Big Sky Tournament by finishing with a conference record of 9-6. Southern Utah fell in the series opener by a 7-6 margin before rallying from an 11-4 deficit to capture the second contest by a score of 13-11. The Bears then held on for a 6-4 win in the final matchup. The T-Birds hit .394 as a team against UNC but stranded 28 base runners over the three games. Senior catcher Katie Olinger led SUU at the plate hitting 4-8 with five RBI and three runs scored.

Southern Utah locked up a postseason berth in the Big Sky Tournament last week by finishing the year with a conference record of 9-6. That mark puts the Thunderbirds third in the standings while Idaho State pulled ahead at the top of the conference ranks with a three-game sweep of North Dakota to improve to 12-3. The Bengals will finish the year with a trip to Sacramento State this week, which is looking to hold off Northern Colorado for the final playoff spot. Portland State is also in the tournament at 11-4 and will try to catch ISU for the regular season title when it plays at North Dakota this weekend.

BYU had a nine-game winning streak come to an end with a 3-1 loss to CSU Bakersfield in its last outing. The Cougars are led by freshman Gordy Bravo who is hitting .387 with nine doubles and 36 RBI. Hannah Howell holds a record of 11-14 with a 2.88 ERA and Tori Almond is 8-6 in the circle with a 3.13 ERA. Head coach Gordon Eakin has led his team to eight NCAA tournament appearances in his 10 years at BYU.

Southern Utah University’s Ariel Zimmerman was named the Big Sky Conference Pitcher of the Week on April 21 after picking up a pair of wins during the Thunderbirds three-game sweep of Weber State.. The Lehi, Utah native went 3-0 the previous week after taking a victory at Utah State before posting two wins over the Wildcats. Zimmerman turned in six strikeouts during each of her appearances in the circle at WSU along with a 1.31 ERA to improve her conference record to 6-3 on the year.

Southern Utah ranked third in the preseason coaches’ poll released by the Big Sky Conference, picking up one first-place vote. Portland State earned the top spot after being voted number one by five coaches and Sacramento State came in second while also receiving a first-place nomination. Northern Colorado was selected fourth, followed by Weber State in fifth and North Dakota and Idaho State who rounded out the bottom of the poll.

       2013 Big Sky Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll
    1.   Portland State              34 (5)
    2.   Sacramento State        31 (1)
    3.   Southern Utah              23 (1)
    4.   Northern Colorado        20
    5.   Weber State                 16
    6.   North Dakota                15
    7.   Idaho State                   8

The Thunderbird middle infielders have made opponents pay for hitting ground balls this season, turning 36 double plays through their first 46 games. Southern Utah’s average of 0.78 double plays a contest ranked second in the nation coming into last week.

The Southern Utah lineup has accounted for 318 total hits this season, 25 of which were home runs. That equates to one dinger for roughly every 13 hits. Kadi Henderson and Mikkel Griffin lead the team with six round-trippers apiece, Kelsey Bryant is second with five and Madison Resley has hit four. Of the Thunderbirds’ 167 RBI this year, 53 have come via the long ball.

Southern Utah opened the season playing its first 26 contests on the road. The Thunderbirds’ first home series didn’t come until March 26 when they hosted Boise State. Overall, 38 of the team’s 51 games this year will be played away from Cedar City.

Southern Utah freshman Kylee Wolf joins the T-Birds after a historic career at Spanish Fork High School. The new SUU outfielder holds Utah high school records for single-game RBI with 11 and single season RBI with 63. Her .454 high school career batting average is among the top ten in Utah history and her mark of 62 hits in a season ranks second all-time to her teammate Kelli Hales who had 63 hits at SFHS. Wolf also ranks third in the record book with 151 career hits, 24 career home runs and 127 career RBI.  

The Southern Utah University softball team added another impressive recruiting class receiving commitments from local standouts Ashley Clayson from Copper Hills High School and reigning Ms. Softball for the state of Utah Jordan Theurer of Bear River. Clayson garnered honorable mention recognition on the Deseret News 5A all-state team after leading the Grizzlies to a Region III title and the school’s first appearance in the state championship game while posting a .441 batting average. Theurer will come ina as one of the most decorated athletes in SUU softball history. The Tremonton, Utah native led the Bears to two consecutive state titles and was selected as the tournament MVP following each appearance. She has also received back-to-back 3A MVP awards from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. Last season Theurer racked up a .442 batting average with four home runs and 48 RBI to go along with a 2.09 ERA, 151 strikeouts in 157.1 innings pitched and an overall record of 22-4 in the circle. She also tossed 12 shutouts and a no-hitter during her junior campaign. Those numbers led to her being named Ms. Softball by the Deseret News and the 2012 Utah Gatorade Player of the Year by ESPN.

SUU senior outfielder Mikkel Griffin was named an Easton NCAA Division I Second-team All-American following a strong junior season for the Thunderbirds. The honor came in addition to her Summit League Player of the Year recognition received earlier in the year. Griffin was tops for the Thunderbirds at the plate, leading the team with a .404 average, 65 hits, 12 home runs, 115 total bases, 10 stolen bases and a .714 slugging percentage. Her home run total also led the Summit League in addition to her total base and slugging percentage marks.

Kadi Henderson has collected six home runs on the year to up her career total to 19 overall. That number ties her with Madison Resley, who has hit four homers so far, for eighth place in the Southern Utah career record book. Mikkel Griffin is just behind with a total of 18 after hitting 12 last year and six more this season. As a team the Thunderbirds have combined to hit 25 home runs in 2013, a mark that  already ranks ninth all-time in a single season by an SUU team.