The NCAA Softball Selection Committee may have weighed the legacy of Arizona softball when they included the Wildcats in this year’s tournament. The Wildcats showed why they have that legacy when they stepped on the field and powered past the Illinois Fighting Illini in an 8-3 victory to advance to the winners' bracket.
It was Arizona’s eighth consecutive win in their opening game of the NCAA postseason.
Arizona wins its eighth consecutive #NCAASoftball opener. Last lost its first regional game in 2013, which was also the last time the Wildcats failed to advance to Super Regionals. https://t.co/mNpJkOHkJz— AZ Desert Swarm (@AZDesertSwarm) May 20, 2022
It was also the first postseason win for first-year head coach Caitlin Lowe, but that wasn’t her focus.
“I didn’t think about that at all,” Lowe said. “Honestly, I just felt that for these players, I know they’ve worked their tails off so hard to be in this moment.
As usual, Arizona used the long ball to dominate offensively. Six of the eight runs were scored via the home run with Izzy Pacho (10), Sharlize Palacios (18), Allie Skaggs (23), and Blaise Biringer (2) all hitting the ball out.
Fifth-year senior Hanah Bowen was strong in the circle, throwing a complete game to earn her 11th win of the season. She allowed 10 hits to go with one walk. She limited the Illini to three runs, two of which were scored in the first inning. She did not allow another run until the bottom of the seventh.
Bowen struck out eight, her third-most strikeouts this season. The tally trailed the nine she had against UNLV on March 12 and the career-high 11 she had against Fresno State on April 30.
The Wildcats’ offense got 12 hits while facing three different Illinois pitchers. They chased ace Sydney Sickels after the first 2.2 innings, although she returned to pitch with one out in the top of the seventh. Sickels gave up four earned runs on four hits. Three of the four hits were home runs. She also struck out four.
Tori McQueen pitched 1.1 innings. She surrendered one earned run but did not give up a homer. She was replaced by Lauren Wiles who allowed three earned runs on three hits. One of those hits was a long ball.
Five Arizona hitters had multi-hit games. Palacios went 2-3 with a home run, a double, and a walk. She had two RBI and scored a run. Skaggs was 2-4 with a home run, an RBI, and two runs scored.
Pacho was also 2-4 with a home run. She had one RBI and a run scored. Carlie Scupin went 2-4 with a double and an RBI. Biringer was also 2-4 with a home run, two RBI, and one run scored.
Arizona now advances to face regional host Missouri. The Tigers beat Missouri State 3-1 in the earlier game on Friday afternoon. What’s the focus for the Wildcats?
“Just to keep competing and attacking,” Bowen said.
Arizona and Missouri face off at 11:30 a.m. MST/PDT on Sat., May 21. The game is scheduled to air on ESPN+.