The stars shined bright at Hillenbrand Stadium on Friday, May 21 as the No. 11 Arizona softball team beat the University of Maryland, Baltimore County by a shutout of 7-0.
It was the first time in over a year that the stadium was at 100% capacity, with fans cheering and screaming for their hometown Wildcats. Head coach Mike Candrea welcomed the noise.
“It was very nice to hear the crowd once again,” Candrea said. “It is something that we miss and rely on. It is a factor when you are playing against us at home with a full stadium. I was very excited that we had fans in the stands. I am glad that I am seeing people without masks on and getting back to some normalcy.”
Pitcher Hanah Bowen stepped into the circle for the Wildcats to open the playoffs. Bowen’s first batter was shortstop Maddie Daigneau. Daigneau, born in New River, Arizona, got things started for the Retrievers with a single to left field off a 1-0 pitch.
“It was a great feeling,” Daigneau said. “It was so great to see [my family and friends] and for them to see my play in Arizona again.”
That was the only offensive celebration UMBC had the whole game. After escaping the first inning with runners in scoring position, Bowen completely locked down the Retrievers offense and never gave up another hit. Also, no Retriever ever made it to third base after the first inning. Bowen finished the night with 7.0 innings pitched, one hit, zero runs and four strikeouts.
“I just came out and attacked and commanded the zone like I always do,” Bowen said. “The strike zone was a little tight in the first couple of innings, but it is what it is. I just had to get them to swing and miss, get ground balls and pop-ups.”
It was a good thing Bowen was dominant in the circle because the Wildcats offense was stagnated for the first two innings. Pitcher Courtney Coppersmith stopped the Wildcats offense early on. Coppersmith faced a bases loaded with no outs first inning yet managed to strike out catcher Dejah Mulipola and caused center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza and designated player Sharlize Palacios to fly out to escape the inning. Coppersmith then came out in the second inning and retired the side in order.
“I relied on the defense,” Coppersmith said. “Arizona is a great hitting team, so of course they are going to hit the ball. I just go out there and try to give it my all … and I think that [not letting them score] was a big win for us.”
Just as Coppersmith was getting comfortable, shortstop Jessie Harper reminded everyone what Arizona softball is all about. With a runner on second and one out, Harper crushed a 3-2 pitch over the left-field wall to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead. That home run happened to be No. 90 for Harper’s career, making her only the fourth player to hit 90 home runs. It also moved Harper into a tie for third all-time with former UCLA Bruin Stacey Nuveman.
“To me, I remember saying that 90 is a cool number,” Harper said. “I would be happy if I got to 90, so I hit it and had a bit of an extra smile.”
From then on, the game was all Arizona. Palacios got going on offense and finished with one home run, four RBI’s and one run scored. Bowen retired 15 of the next 16 batters she faced, and the game was over. The UMBC defense gave Arizona many lucky breaks, including five errors which accounted for three of Arizona’s seven runs. Head coach Chris Kuhlmeyer knows his team can do better.
“Our defense made some really uncharacteristic plays today,” Kuhlmeyer said. “It’s unfortunate, but we’ll bounce back. We are going to play Villanova now … and let’s see if we can stretch the season one more game.”
With Arizona advancing to the winner’s bracket, they will face SEC foe Ole Miss. Candrea feels from what he saw from his team against UMBC and all season that they are ready for anything.
“I think this team is battle-tested,” Candrea said. “We have gone through some ups and downs and I think they are in a good place right now. We just have to come out and compete, have some fun and play the game.”
Arizona will play Ole Miss at Hillenbrand Stadium on Saturday, May 22 at 2 p.m. MST. The winner will face either UMBC or Villanova to determine the Tucson Regional winner at 7 p.m. MST.
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