It was a slugfest at Hillenbrand Stadium on Saturday, May 23, as the No. 11 Arizona softball team won the duel against Ole Miss 12-6 to advance to the Tucson Regional final.
Arizona jumped out to an early lead after a big inning by catcher Dejah Mulipola. Mulipola was still looking for her first playoff hit after going 0-4 with three strikeouts in the team’s win against UMBC on Friday, May 21. With runners on first and second with one out, Mulipola smacked an 0-1 pitch over the right-field wall to give the Wildcats an early 3-0 lead.
“It was definitely a great feeling,” Mulipola said. “You work so hard throughout your life and the season to prevent nights like [my game against UMBC]. I processed what I felt and then joined the team … and I was glad that I was able to help out offensively today.”
While Mulipola was coming out of a bit of a slump, designated player Sharlize Palacios was continuing her stellar playoff run. With the score 4-0 in the bottom of the second inning, Palacios stepped up to the plate after Ole Miss elected to intentionally walk Mulipola and load the bases with two outs. With the count full, Palacios crushed the next pitch she saw over the center-field wall for a grand slam to stretch the lead to 8-0.
Palacios is currently hitting .750 with two home runs, eight RBI’s and two runs scored in the playoffs.
“It started when they intentionally walked [Mulipola] and I just love pressure situations,” Palacios said. “I thrive on them. They are not always going to go my way, but when they do it is awesome. Right away I mentally started preparing myself because they wanted me, so I was going to show them what I have.”
After an explosive first two innings on offense and pitcher Alyssa Denham in control on defense, it looked as if the game was going to end in five innings. Then, Ole Miss came alive in an explosive way.
With one runner on and one out, right fielder Abbey Latham got the rally going for the Rebels when she hit the first pitch of the at-bat over the left-field wall to cut the lead 8-2.
Things got worse in the fourth inning for Denham. After an error allowed a runner to score to make it 8-3, catcher Autumn Gillespie hit a three-run home run that cut the lead to only two runs and Ole Miss was right back in the game. Denham was immediately pulled and finished the day with 3.2 innings pitched and allowed seven hits, six runs (two earned) and three strikeouts. Mariah Lopez came in for relief for the Wildcats and held Ole Miss scoreless for the next 1.1 innings.
Heading into the bottom of the sixth and the pressure mounting, the Wildcats were desperate to tack some insurance runs on the board. Shortstop Jessie Harper hit a sac fly that scored right fielder Hannah Martinez to give Arizona a much-needed run. Mulipola stepped up to the plate and was able to repeat her earlier performance and sent a 2-2 pitch out of the park for a two-run home run. After the sixth inning, Arizona stretched their lead to 12-6. After coaching Mulipola her entire collegiate career, head coach Mike Candrea knows just how important Mulipola is to the team.
“[Mulipola] is a very mature player,” Candrea said. “The game never gets too quick, and she knows how to calm people down. She’s just a real veteran who provides great leadership for us, so she is really important.”
Pitcher Hanah Bowen came back out for the top of the seventh inning and earned the save for the Wildcats. With Arizona now looking ahead to the Reginal Championship game, Candrea said he wants to use the extra time to allow his team to recharge.
“Rest and recovery right now for our pitching staff and mental rest more than anything,” Candrea said. “Just getting away from the ballpark and relaxing a little bit … but we will be prepared and ready.”
Arizona will face either Villanova or Ole Miss for the Tucson Regional championship at Hillenbrand Stadium on Sunday, May 23, at 5 p.m. MST.
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