The No. 11 Arizona softball team punched their ticket to the College World Series on Saturday, May 29. The Wildcats defeated No. 6 Arkansas 4-1 to complete the sweep in the Fayetteville Super Regional at Bogle Park. It will be the 24th appearance for Arizona in the College World Series.
For the first half of the game, it was a pitcher’s duel between Arizona’s Alyssa Denham and Arkansas Autumn Storms. Over four innings, Denham only allowed three hits and no runs, and Storms was pitching a perfect game. Arkansas head coach Courtney Deifel praised Storms for her consistency.
“That is who [Storms] has been for us since the time she stepped on campus,” Deifel said. “[Storms] is a fighter, feisty and a competitor. [Storms] has that adrenaline and look in her eye that she is going to make you earn it, and I am very proud of how she fought.”
While Storms was holding it down on the defensive end, the Arkansas offense finally got it going in the fifth inning. Third baseman Malia Martinez opened the inning with an error and Denham hit the next batter to put two runners on. Denham did force left fielder Hannah McEwen to foul out, but shortstop Braxton Burnside doubled to center field and gave the Razorbacks a 1-0 lead. Burnside’s RBI fired up the crowd at Bogle Park who did not have much to cheer about since the Super Regional started.
That was all Arkansas would get in that inning, as Denham was able to settle down and work out of the jam. Arizona head coach Mike Candrea was confident that no matter how tough the situation is, Denham can get the job done.
“[Denham] has had her ups and downs, but today was her moment,” Candrea said. “I told her before the game that this was her moment. [Denham] went out and threw a hell of a ballgame against a good team. I am happy for her.”
With Arizona now down by a run and Storms still throwing a perfect game against them, the Wildcats were looking for a spark. That spark came in the bottom of the fifth from none other than designated player Sharlize Palacios, who broke up the perfect game after sending a 2-0 pitch to left field for a single.
Center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza was up next with the first opportunity for Arizona to put some runs on the board. Palomino-Cardoza had not had a very strong offensive showing in the playoffs, hitting .250 with only one extra-base hit. Palomino-Cardoza broke out of her slump and sent the first pitch she saw over the left-field wall, and, just like that, it was 2-1 Arizona.
Palomino-Cardoza’s home run also sucked the life out of the crowd and the Razorbacks on the field. On top of all that, Palomino-Cardoza turned 24 the same day. It was a great way to celebrate for Palomino-Cardoza.
“This has been the best birthday I have ever had,” Palomino-Cardoza said.
Even though it was Palomino-Cardoza who hit the home run, she said she felt the momentum the team gained would not have been possible if Palacios did not get on base.
“We have been going off … enjoying the little wins,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “[Palacios’ hit] was a little win for us, and it really sparked us to think that we can hit this pitcher and continue to win this game.”
Another little win for Arizona came in the bottom of the sixth inning. After back-to-back errors by Burnside and a four-pitch walk, the bases were loaded with two outs for first baseman Carlie Scupin. Scupin connected on a 2-2 pitch and set the ball deep into right field to score two more runs to extend the lead to 4-1.
Denham came back out for the seventh inning and got the first two batters out. After walking Burnside, it was up to third baseman Hannah Gammill to keep Arkansas season alive. However, Gammill hit a 1-1 pitch right into the glove of left fielder Janelle Meono, and with that out the Wildcats were headed to Oklahoma City. Palomino-Cardoza is a woman of faith, and she related the team’s journey to the story of Queen Esther.
“As someone who’s big in their faith, there’s a verse in the Bible in [The Book of] Esther that says, ‘[Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom] for such a time as this,’” Palomino-Cardoza said. “Esther was put in a position to save her people, and I feel like [God] puts us in moments where we can step up, and if we play for [God] and give Him all the glory, we will be able to shine.”
Arizona will face Alabama in the first round of the College World Series at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium on Thursday, June 3.
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