Arizona softball sweeps first Pac-12 series against Oregon State Beavers
Arizona's Mandie Perez bats during the game against Fordham at Hillenbrand Stadium on Feb. 9.
After taking down the defending national champions on Tuesday, Arizona softball rolled into their first Pac-12 Conference series against the Oregon State Beavers. The Wildcats swept the Beavers and improved to 29-1 (3-0 Pac-12).
Last season, the Wildcats struggled to come up with big hits late in games, as well as committing uncharacteristic errors in big moments.
Whether it was giving up four unearned runs in a 4-3 loss to then-No. 1 Alabama, being shutdown at home by BYU’s McKenna Bull or being outmatched by longtime rival UCLA, the Wildcats were missing that “it” factor last season.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday and forget about all that.
After a walk-off win against Oklahoma, the Wildcats had overcome their close game woes.
After opening Pac-12 play on the road at in-state rival ASU last season, the Wildcats had an easier start to 2017.
The Beavers entered the series after being shutout at home by No. 7 Minnesota and were 15-8 overall. After rain postponed the first game on Friday, the Wildcats wasted no time wrapping up the series all in a day.
The Wildcats found themselves in a tight one against the Beavers, but for the second straight time, they came through in the clutch.
Down 2-1 in the sixth inning, senior Katiyana Mauga crushed a one-out home run to centerfield to knot things up. Freshman Alyssa Palomino singled in the go-ahead run in the seventh, and Mauga followed that up with her ninth home run of the season, a three-run shot that gave Arizona a 6-2 lead.
Senior Danielle O’Toole picked up her 14th win of the season and, outside of one mistake, she was her usual self.
The Beavers were able to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth when Tucson native Sammi Noland took O’Toole deep for a two-run homer.
O’Toole settled down after the home run, allowing just one hit over the final three innings.
After five innings of play in game two, the scoreboard was almost the exact same as it was in game one, but this time the Wildcats were ahead 2-1. Sophomore Taylor McQuillin (8-0) wouldn’t end up needing any insurance runs, but she sure got them.
The Wildcats scored five runs over the final two innings to wrap up their first Pac-12 series victory.
It wasn’t the big bats who got it done, either. Mauga, Palomino, Mandie Perez and Dejah Mulipola combined to go 0-11, but the Wildcats’ lineup depth was once again a huge factor.
Freshmen Jessie Harper and Reyna Carranco each had two hits and two RBIs. Senior Mo Mercado went 2-4 and increased her average to a team-high .444.
With 14 more strikeouts, McQuillin finds herself comfortably within the top 10 in the nation for strikeouts per nine innings. She came into the game averaging 10.7 strikeouts per game, and if it were not for an injury keeping her out of a few starts during the Mary Nutter Classic, she would likely find herself in the top 10 in strikeouts overall.
Game three of the series looked like it would be another easy Wildcats’ win after O’Toole took a no-hitter in to the fifth inning, but it turned out to be a nail-biter after the Beavers tied things up in the bottom of the seventh.
O’Toole recorder her 100th strikeout of the season in the first inning, her first of the day, and she had a career-high 10 strikeouts during the afternoon. Her no-hitter was broken up in the fifth by a bunt single and Arizona head coach Mike Candrea opted to enter McQuillin.
McQuillin cruised through the rest of the fifth and sixth innings, but after allowing a couple base runners in the seventh. Natalie Hampton came up to the plate.
Hampton hit a game-tying three-run homer, and the Wildcats’ streak of good play late in games looked like it was coming to a halt.
But after making a game-saving catch after the home run in the seventh, Ashleigh Hughes drove in Jessie Harper on a ground out to shortstop. It put the Wildcats ahead 5-4, Mandie Perez’s fourth home run in six games stretched the lead out to 7-4 and McQuillin locked it down in the eighth.
Up next for Arizona is their home opening Pac-12 series against the No. 6 Washington Huskies. The three-game series begins on Friday, March 24, at 5 p.m. MST. All three games will be aired on Pac-12 Networks.
Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.