Arizona softball eliminated by Baylor, misses Super Regionals for the first time
In the end, the “Comeback Cats” used up all nine of their lives.
Arizona softball rebounded to beat Penn 3-2 in extra innings Saturday afternoon, but lost again to Baylor later that night — this time 8-4 — eliminating the UA from the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a long day at the ballpark, to say the least,” head coach Mike Candrea said in the postgame press conference. “I was proud of the way these kids battled, but when it came down to it I think the best team won.”
Arizona’s 33 wins this year is its fewest since 1986, Candrea’s first season. The 26 losses are the most in the program’s history, as well.
The 33rd win didn’t come easy either, as Arizona scored with two out in the bottom of the seventh to send the game into extra innings against Penn before finally beating the Quakers.
There just wasn’t enough magic left for Baylor. Down by four runs in the bottom of the seventh, the UA threatened to make another comeback but fell short, stranding two runners on base.
This is the first time Arizona has ever failed to make the Super Regionals. The last time the UA wasn’t regional champions was in 2004, the year before the tournament was expanded to 64 teams, adding the Super Regional round.
“I feel like a broken record but I’ve said this a thousand times — we haven’t executed the game the way it needs to be executed at this level, at this time of the year,” Candrea said. “You’re not going to win many games by walking nine batters.”
All three active Wildcat pitchers saw action against Baylor and they combined to issue nine walks.
Freshman Nancy Bowling started both games, lasting 1.2 innings against the Bears, giving up four earned runs on four hits and walking four against the Bears.
Arizona jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, first off of an RBI single by junior first baseman/catcher Kelsey Rodriguez and then by a Bears’ throwing error.
Baylor took a 4-2 lead on a couple of doubles, which chased Bowling from the game.
Junior ace Shelby Babcock (16-13) relieved Bowling. In 2.0 innings pitched, Babcock allowed two earned runs on two hits and four walks and had two strikeouts.
Arizona tied it in the third inning when senior shortstop Brigette Del Ponte hit a double and then Rodriguez scored on an error.
The Bears retook the lead in the fourth, 6-4, which ended Babcock’s night. Junior Estela Piñon came in and ended the inning with the bases loaded.
Piñon pitched the final 3.1, giving up two runs, four hits and one walk while striking out two. Baylor added a run in the sixth and seventh to move the lead to 8-4.
BU freshman pitcher Heather Stearns (11-4) retired 11 of the last 12 batters she faced.
“She was getting a lot of calls,” sophomore outfielder/first baseman Hallie Wilson said. “She was getting those corners that we seemed to be just too far off or we weren’t getting them, but she was getting the calls and hitting her spots, and she has a great pitch caller and defense behind her.”
The Bears (41-16) opened the College Station Regional with a 7-0 win over the UA and ran up a 5-0 lead over host and No. 16 seed Texas A&M in their first game Saturday, but blew the lead and lost 6-5 on a walk-off home run.
In the first loser’s bracket game against Penn, the Wildcats trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning. With two outs and the season on the line, Wilson singled to tie it up at 2-2.
Wilson has been vital in three of Arizona’s last six wins, beating UCLA and Arizona State with walk-offs, a home run against the Bruins and a single against the Sun Devils and then the season-saving single Saturday.
In the bottom of the eighth Arizona won on a sacrifice fly by Rodriguez. The junior drove in two of the Wildcats’ three runs against the Quakers.
The win was Arizona’s fifth consecutive late-game comeback victory.
“I knew we were going to win,” Del Ponte said. “We always get down in games but we always do a good job of coming back in the sixth or the seventh and scoring runs. Our attitude and effort should have been a lot more in the beginning of the game, but we got it done.
“We had good effort in the second game, too. We did a good job [Saturday], we just didn’t get the good hits that we needed.”