Arizona softball on the search for win against ranked opponent
Arizona softball went 2-3 in its last tournament before conference play begins and is still seeking its first win against a ranked opponent, but showed some promise.
The No. 14 Wildcats (20-8) closed out the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. with a 4-0 loss to No. 1 Oklahoma on Saturday. Oklahoma senior ace Keilani Ricketts (14-0) held the Wildcats to three hits.
“I thought we made some progress,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “I thought throughout the weekend we had moments where we played really well and there was some moments when we had our backs against the wall. We kind of panicked a bit and that’s what we got to get over.”
Freshman Nancy Bowling (4-3) pitched five innings and struck out a career high 10 batters, including six in a row at one point, OU’s second through sixth batters. Oklahoma’s offense was ranked No. 8 in the country, averaging 7.43 runs per game.
Ricketts, a potential national player of the year, struck out seven and retired 19 Wildcats in a row after Arizona put three of its first four runners on base.
“We had the bases loaded the first inning and didn’t score, but you take a couple home runs away and it’s a very close ball game, which is the way we should be playing those,” Candrea said. “I was very pleased with that.”
On Friday, Arizona split a couple run-rule games, having its way with Penn State, 10-2 in five innings and losing to No. 15 Michigan 9-1 in five as well.
Junior Estela Piñon (7-2) threw a five hitter against PSU and struck out five. Sophomore catcher Chelsea Goodacre went 3-for-3, her fourth three-hit game of the season and hit her team-leading 10th home run.
Senior shortstop Brigette Del Ponte hit a double and a triple and drove in two against the Nittany Lions. Freshman second baseman/outfielder Mandie Perez tallied a career-high-tying three RBI.
Sophomore first baseman/outfielder Hallie Wilson hit a home run, her third of the season and third in the last six games up to that point.
Michigan gave Arizona its first run-rule defeat since a February 2011 loss to then-top-ranked Georgia.
Bowling retired every Wolverine she faced until the fourth inning when the floodgates opened and she gave up a homer, two triples, a double and a walk. Bowling would be replaced by junior Shelby Babcock (9-3).
Candrea said he is happy with how the team is pitching heading into Pac-12 play, even though Babcock “struggled a little bit.”
“I think [Bowling] did a really nice job, Piñon had some good innings,” Candrea said.
On offense, Arizona only had seven base runners and hit into a season-worst two double plays against UM.
The UA opened up play at the Classic with a split on Thursday, losing 9-2 to No. 21 Virginia Tech, but beating Notre Dame 2-0.
The Hokies scored nine on 11 hits off of the combination of Piñon and Babcock, who took the loss. Babcock gave up five runs on seven hits.
Freshman third baseman Lauren Young hit her sixth home run in four games and Goodacre earned the other RBI against VT.
“Offensively I feel pretty good where we’re at,” Candrea said. “We’ve got to get some production from the bottom of the order and that’s going to be the key for us.”
The Wildcats rebounded against Notre Dame. The UA’s RBI leader, Goodacre, drove in both runs, off of a single and homer.
Bowling went a full seven innings for the first time in her career and got the win. Her previous high was five.
It was Arizona’s first shut out since Feb. 15. Bowling gave up five hits, walked four and struck out three.
The Wildcats began spring break on March 9 with a couple of mercy rule wins over Boise State, 14-4 and 10-2. The UA hit a doubleheader record nine home runs and including four homers by Young that day.
Arizona opens up Pac-12 play by hosting No. 16 Washington this weekend.
Seven of the nine Pac-12 teams are ranked in the media poll and eight are ranked in the coaches’ poll.