Arizona softball came close to sweeping the Oregon Ducks for the first time since 2007, but the Ducks held their own with key home runs late in the game and salvaged their trip to Tucson with a 4-3 victory on Sunday. It marks the Wildcats' first loss at Hillenbrand Stadium this season, however, they still won the series after taking the first two games.
"I thought it was a great series for us," said Arizona head coach Mike Candrea. "That's what you expect when you're playing a top-five team. It's going to come down to the little things. Today we just didn't help ourselves out."
Danielle O’Toole was in the circle for the Wildcats and looked to be in complete control of the game through 5.1 innings, yet the Ducks were able to get to her in the sixth when they hit two solo home runs, chasing O'Toole from the ballgame. With the loss, she fell to 24-3 on the season, and after giving up just five home runs this season, she surrendered three on Sunday afternoon.
"She gave us everything she has," Candrea said. "That's the tough part when you're battling the heat: You're battling a really tough strike zone to be, honest with you, and she had to be perfect. And then we didn't help ourselves."
After scoring 10 runs on Saturday, the Arizona bats were hot early against the Ducks again on Sunday. Mandie Perez scored the first run of the game on a play at the plate after a single by Mo Mercado in the first inning.
Alyssa Palomino hit her 15th home run of the season, a solo shot to head off the second inning, but the Wildcats were effectively shut down for the rest of the game.
The Ducks were able to keep pace with Arizona early, grabbing a run in both the second and third innings. Shannon Rhodes got to O’Toole in the second and led the inning with a solo home run, and a couple of errors from the Wildcats allowed the Ducks to tie the game 2-2 in the third inning.
They scored their second run after a throwing error from Wildcat catcher Dejah Mulipola. The catcher attempted to throw out a Ducks base runner who was attempting a steal, but no one covered the base and the ball flew into center field, allowing the base runner to reach third.
"We were in a coverage where Reyna [Carranco] was supposed to cover second base," Candrea said. "She'll learn from it."
Ducks starter Megan Kleist once again was able to limit the high-powered Wildcat offense, but ran into one of the nation's best in O'Toole. After allowing just two runs in six innings in game one on Friday, she tossed a complete game and allowed just three runs, but this time she out-dueled O'Toole for her 14th win of the season.
The Wildcats led the Ducks 3-2 heading into the sixth inning, but with one out, the Ducks came up with the key hits of the contest.
Nikki Udria laced a line drive over the right-center field fence and after a ground out, Lauren Lindvall took O'Toole deep on an opposite-field shot that put the Ducks ahead for good. It was the third time O'Toole had faced the two Ducks that day, but with as many times as she faced them this weekend, it was hard to fool them one last time.
"I mean, it's about the ninth time in the order that I've seen them, if you think about it," O'Toole said. "The only one I think was a good pitch was [against] Lindvall. She hit an inside pitch going [opposite field]. I don't know how she did it, but kudos to her."
The Wildcats had the tying run at second with two outs in the seventh but stranded Eva Watson there and fell to 45-4.
Next up for the Wildcats is a three-game series against rival ASU beginning 6 p.m. Friday, April 28, at Hillenbrand Stadium.
Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter