Rivalries tend to bring out the best in a team and on Friday night No. 23 Arizona State didn’t back down from No. 2 Arizona. ASU hung around throughout the night, but the Wildcats escaped with a 4-3 victory in game one of the series.
Freshman Jessie Harper came through when the Wildcats needed her the most in the bottom of the fifth. Her two-out double down the right field line scored Mo Mercado from first base and put Arizona ahead for good.
Harper has been struggling as of late, she hasn’t homered in conference play since April 9th, but she broke out of it against the Devils without the long ball.
"Harper's a good hitter, I've said that all year," said Arizona head coach Mike Candrea. "She's a kid that is intelligent, works very hard, she's going to find a way to do what she needs to do to. I could see in batting practice she was swinging the bat a lot better here the last few days."
Harper went 3-3 with three RBIs on the night, all coming with two outs.
The Wildcats got the scoring going early on. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Katiyana Mauga scored from first on a sharply hit ground ball off the bat of Mercado that scooted past the Sun Devils shortstop and left fielder, reaching the wall. Mercado was driven in on a Harper single and the Wildcats had a quick 2-0 lead.
The Sun Devils struck right back in the second inning. After Wildcat starter Danielle O’Toole (25-3) surrendered a leadoff walk, a throwing error by Mauga cost the Wildcats a run and gave the Sun Devils runners at second and third with no one out. They would plate one more with a sac fly in the inning and took the lead 3-2 in the third when Chelsea Gonzales drove in Taylor Becerra with a two-out single.
O’Toole admitted she struggled finding the zone in the first few innings, but once she settled in she set down 13 of the last 15 batters she faced. It was Mercado who sparked O’Toole to pitch well in the final four innings of the game.
“Mo had actually said something to all of us,” O’Toole said. “She told us to be better, that we needed to be better. We’re not going to let them win this. I really kind of took that and I said ‘you know what, she’s right.’ I need to light a fire and I did.”
O’Toole leads the Pac-12 in wins, but ASU starter Breanna Macha held her own against the Wildcats’ ace. Macha threw a complete game allowing just two earned runs on six hits.
Macha’s second earned run of the night came in the third inning when Mauga singled through the left side with one out. After an illegal pitch by Macha, Mauga advanced to second where Eva Watson ran for the senior, eventually scoring on a two-out single by Harper.
The score would remain tied 3-3 until the bottom of the fifth when the Wildcats got another clutch hit from Harper.
Mercado worked a walk after a Dejah Mulipola flied out and Mauga struck out bringing Harper to the plate. Her double would turn out to be the winning run and was quite the introduction to the rivalry for the freshman.
Harper used all three parts of the field in her three hits and they proved to be the difference in the ballgame.
"Any way I can help the team, three runs is three runs, as long as our team is scoring and we're able to put up runs to win the game that's all that matters," Harper said.
All three of Harper’s RBIs came with two outs.
The win for O’Toole marked her 21st complete game of the season. She gave up two earned runs on four hits and struck out four.
The series resumes on Saturday, April 29 at 6 p.m. MST at Hillenbrand Stadium.
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