The postseason is when the players you least expect turn into heroes.
University of Arizona's Hannah “Peanut” Martinez, who hadn't driven in a run since April 27, provided the opening playoff heroics as she drove in the tying run to lift the Wildcats softball team to a 5-1 victory over Harvard in the first day of the NCAA Tournament Tucson Regional.
Martinez kick-started an Arizona offense that had struggled to score runs the majority of the night when she singled home Rylee Pierce in the fourth inning and plated Hanah Bowen on a line-drive single to center field in the sixth.
The sophomore right fielder spent most of the final two weeks of the regular season going through a bit of a slump. Her .315 batting average on May 4 dipped to .277 heading into the postseason as she entered the regionals on a 0-12 streak at the plate with three strikeouts.
Martinez didn’t get discouraged and instead, altered her approach.
“Throughout the week, just putting in that extra work. Working with each of the coaches, working on staying back, seeing the ball deep and that’s exactly what I did on both of those hits.” Martinez said. “It was awesome.”
After Martinez’s go-ahead hit, the Wildcat went on to add three more runs in the inning on three singles from Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Malia Martinez and Pierce.
Taylor McQuillin didn’t have a vintage night in the circle but did more than enough to give Arizona a chance to win. The senior ace threw a complete game, surrendering only one hit and striking out eight in her 21st win of the year.
Her lone crucial mistake came against the second batter of the game when she left a pitch over the middle of the plate that Harvard's Erin Lockhart served over the center field wall for an early 1-0 lead.
“You leave a pitch over the plate, it’s going to get hit hard, it’s going to get hit far," McQuillin said. "Obviously, everyone saw what happened."
Outside of a few walks that didn’t lead to any threatening scoring chances for the Crimson, McQuillin remained in control of the game and retired 12 of the final 13 hitters she faced.
“For me it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. I think the most important thing for me was to come back strong and trust my defense,” McQuillin added.
The game against Harvard didn’t start until 9:25 p.m., an hour later than the original scheduled start time, due to Auburn’s 10-5 win over Colorado State in the first game lasting three hours. The Wildcats prepared during the week for such a scenario as head coach Mike Candrea held practice at night to simulate playing in the late-night hours.
He even credited the fans who stuck around for a game that finished around 11:30 p.m.
“It’s two hours past their bedtime I’d imagine,” he joked.
UA’s win advances it to the winner’s bracket of the Tucson Regional against Auburn at 3 p.m. Saturday.
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