Oregon Ducks softball takes on University of Oklahoma at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Mar. 9, 2019. (Ben Green/Emerald)

With two runners on base and Oregon tied with No. 8 LSU 5-5 in the seventh inning, senior first baseman April Utecht knew she had a big opportunity. She’d already given her team a lead with a single up the middle the previous inning, but this time, Utecht launched a three-run homer to take down the Tigers. It was her first home run of the season, and the win is by far the Ducks’ best of 2019.

“She’s been putting in her time, and she’s been waiting for her moments,” head coach Melyssa Lombardi said.

Lombardi believes Utecht had opportunities prior to that weekend, but she didn’t capitalize. She was glad to see Utecht take advantage with the game-winning hit to upset the Tigers.

Utecht is one of three returning seniors on the team, and during her three previous years at Oregon, she’s played in 24 games on average per season. But with nine transfers and a head coaching change in the offseason, Utecht has the opportunity to start and be a key contributor in every game.

The senior from Richland, Washington, has seen some of the highs of Oregon softball. Utecht is  one of the few remaining players who’s been to the Women’s College World Series, and now she has an unexpected opportunity to be a voice of leadership and experience to a new team.

While individual performances get a lot of the highlights, Utecht’s experience has taught her that the real win comes from the team’s overall performance. She acknowledged her performance against LSU as “a good feeling” but knew the real win was in how the team played.

“As a team, we got on base, we did our jobs and the home run was just something special that came along,” Utecht said. “So it was nice to have that, but everyone did their job in the game.”

Through the season’s first 18 games, she has earned 14 RBIs, already a career-high. Utecht has a .313 batting average this season and provides some of the best power hitting on the team, something it desperately needed to regain after the turbulent offseason. She has three home runs so far this season, tied with Rachel Cid and Hannah Galey.

While she is comfortable playing catcher, the position will likely be covered by junior Shaye Bowden for most of the season, which sends Utecht to first base. She played catcher when she was younger and acknowledges she has a lot to improve on.

One of the best resources for Utecht is her new head coach Melyssa Lombardi, who played catcher during her two-year collegiate career at Oklahoma. She knows the dynamics of playing catcher at an elite level.

“Throwing for me: I definitely don’t have the quickness,” Utecht said, “but coach Lombardi has been working with me to get that quickness up, and it’s definitely been improving.”

With Utecht getting in the most games of her four-year career this season, she and Lombardi will have have plenty of opportunities to keep improving.

August is a senior at UO majoring in journalism, with a minor in multimedia. He covers a range of sports, from track & field to basketball and football. Contact him at [email protected]

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