BYU students in caps and gowns, alongside their families, strolled the sidewalks around Miller Field all evening.
It's a delightful time of year to be a senior.
Ain't too shabby being a freshman, either. Especially a softball player like Mercedes O'Connor. It had to feel like three long years left of facing her for Loyola Marymount, which was battered by the Cougar newcomer in a BYU doubleheader sweep Friday. She had five hits and seven RBI in a breakout game.
"I hope it stays," BYU coach Gordon Eakin said in praise of the momentum from the academic sophomore who redshirted last year in Provo. "I hope it doesn't go away. She was dynamic. Mercedes has really worked hard at it -- extra swings, working on getting better against pitches she's weaker on hitting. She's been hitting better the past 15 games, but nothing like this. It was great to see."
O'Connor had five RBI in the first West Coast Conference softball game, just one shy of what she produced during the rest of the season. That included her first college home run.
She added a two-RBI single early in the nightcap, nearly ruined a pitcher's night with one hard shot and finished 2-for-4 by tagging virtually every ball.
O'Connor lasered a game-ending base hit for the 13-5 first-game outcome that only required six innings because of mercy rule.
The Cougars were effective in the second game as well, if not quite as surprising or explosive, and produced a sweep (off an 8-1 win) that kept them in contention for first place in the WCC standings.
BYU improved to 6-2 (24-21 overall), while San Diego and Pacific each started the weekend 6-3.
LMU (1-10, 20-24) continues to bring up the caboose of the first-year league that has six of the league's typical 10 schools playing the sport.
O'Connor, in the second game, continued to look sharp, a trend shared by her teammates. She nearly plastered a grand slam in the third inning, but the ball barely hooked foul in left field.
"Oh my gosh, I wanted that to be fair so bad," she said with a huge laugh.
Two pitches later, she produced a single off the end of the bat that fluttered beyond the second baseman. It's all part of finding a way, through repetition, to produce a more compact swing with less "double-pumping" of her hands before the pitch is delivered.
Now with one motion, rather than (in her words) herky-jerky, she is finding playing time for a team that is trying to garner its 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. Experience built by younger players, and extra-good team chemistry according to O'Connor, have played major parts the last few weeks as the Cougars have recovered from one of the toughest starts in Eakin's tenure.
Listed as a catcher and third baseman, O'Connor spent time near the bottom of the batting order and playing left field.
She grounded out in her first plate appearance, which didn't come until the second inning. But she hit a 2-run home run in the fourth -- her first as a collegian on what was a graduation celebration for seniors.
A two-run triple came in the long fifth inning, when BYU scored six runs. A three-run homer from Katie Manuma keyed the early ending. She's considerably more likely to go yard, considering that was the senior's team-best eighth.
O'Connor's double in the sixth produced the half-hour break between games.
Perhaps both teams wished they had started even a little earlier. Two lightning delays tormented the second game.
Eakin praised the team for staying focused throughout the day, when even finishing one game was a concern. O'Connor joked that the toughest part was just getting to the field and finding parking, because of all the festivities as the semester ends.
O'Connor wasn't the only young Cougar finding a way to have some momentous fun. McKenna Bull became the school's all-time strikeouts leader for a newcomer, getting three in the first game as she allowed eight hits and five runs to improve to 12-9.
She broke the mark of Tori Almond, one of five seniors on the team who won the second game with ease (seven innings, six hits, eight strikeouts).