There was no stopping the No. 11 Arizona softball team at Bogle Park as they crushed No. 6 Arkansas 10-4 on Friday, May 28 in the Fayetteville Super Regional. The Wildcats are now just one win away from a trip to the College World Series.
Coming into the series against Arkansas, the odds were stacked against Arizona. The Wildcats would be playing a top-25 team on the road, and they had only batted .217 against top-25 opponents and .252 on the road in the regular season. In addition, they would be facing the best pitcher in the SEC, Mary Haff, who had not given up a run in both her outings in Arkansas Regional tournament.
Instead, Arizona controlled every aspect of the game. Head coach Mike Candrea felt it was Arizona’s best win of the year.
“Everything expands when you are in postseason,” Candrea said. “Every game is so important. To be able to put together a performance like that, I think it is a tribute to [the players] sticking with what we do. It was definitely a signature win for us tonight on the road.”
The Wildcats offense jumped on the board early in the first inning. With one on and two outs, catcher Dejah Mulipola stepped up to the plate and smacked a 0-1 pitch over the left-center field wall to give Arizona an early 2-0 lead.
“We were just trusting our eyes,” Mulipola said. “It was not what the other pitcher was throwing us, but just getting our pitches and making sure they were pitches that we wanted to hit.”
Hanah Bowen was in the circle for the Wildcats, looking for redemption after her last outing against Ole Miss on Sunday, May 23 did not go well at all. Bowen found her stride, retiring nine straight batters to start the game. After designated player Sharlize Palacios’ RBI single in the third, Arizona held a 3-0 lead after three innings and Bowen was looking solid.
“[Bowen] is resilient and very competitive,” Mulipola said. “We watched the replays on the jumbotron, and they were great pitches. That is the type of player that [Bowen] is.”
Bowen did find herself in a bit of trouble in the bottom of the fourth inning after she surrendered a solo home run to left fielder Hannah McEwen cutting the lead to 3-1.
With the offense already on a role, it did not take long for Arizona to bail out Bowen for that one run. After Mulipola stunned Arkansas with her monster home run in the first inning, Haff did everything she could to pitch away from Mulipola. The strategy failed and Arkansas walked Mulipola. Now Arkansas had to deal with Palacios, and she made them pay by sending a 2-2 pitch deep over the center-field wall for a 5-1 lead.
“That is why I have [Palacios] batting behind [Mulipola,]” Candrea said. “I know people are sometimes going to throw around [Jessie] Harper and if you throw around Harper, you’ll have to face [Mulipola]. If you throw around [Mulipola] then you’ll have to face Palacios. I think [Palacios] has great maturity for her age … and tonight was a good example of that.”
Later in the inning, third baseman Malia Martinez hit an RBI double that scored two runs to stretch the lead to 7-1. From this point on, the game was out of reach for the Razorbacks. Even head coach Courtney Deifel admitted that her team was demoralized after Mulipola’s first-inning home run.
“I do not think that we were very tough tonight,” Deifel said. “I don’t think we were tough in any facet of our game. I don’t think we were tough from the circle; we didn’t play great defense and we did not fight like we typically do from the [batters] box. I think I need to be better too.”
Arizona punched back one final time in the top of the sixth inning when Harper and Mulipola hit back-to-back home runs that resulted in 10 runs for the Wildcats, making it only the second time all year that Arkansas gave up double-digit runs. Harper’s home run was number 91 of her career, moving her into third on the all-time home run list, just two away from the Arizona record.
Bowen went on to pitch a complete game for the Wildcats, finishing with a line of four hits, four runs (four earned) and eight strikeouts. Even after Arkansas lost badly to a team the performed poorly on the road all year, shortstop Braxton Burnside was not impressed with the Wildcats performance.
“Runs do not roll over to tomorrow,” Burnside said. “It is just one win and they earned nothing more than that.”
Arizona did, however, earn the advantage of being able to close out the super regional tomorrow and advance to the college world series. Mulipola is confident the team can get it done and not have to play an extra game.
“We have to go out with the same mindset that we had today,” Mulipola said. “We have one team in our way of getting where we want to go.”
Arizona will look to eliminate Arkansas in the Fayetteville Super Regional at Bogle Park on Saturday, May 29 at 2 p.m. MST.
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