Arizona women’s basketball fans were fairly welcoming to transfers who returned with their new teams this season. Arizona softball fans were decidedly not welcoming to former Wildcats Sharlize Palacios and Janelle Meoño when they returned to Tucson with UCLA on Friday night, but the Bruins got the 8-0 victory.
“They executed big on three pitches, I thought,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe. “And we put runners in scoring position again, and we just have to get the hit.”
A significant portion of the fans booed the pair of transfers during pregame introductions and the displeasure rained down again when Palacios stepped into the batter’s box in the top of the second inning. When freshman pitcher Aissa Silva struck out the former Arizona catcher, loud cheers went up in the stadium. She and Meoño would continue to hear it for the rest of the game.
The two transfers ended the night a combined 0 for 5 with one walk and one sacrifice bunt, but the rest of the Bruins were able to do damage. UCLA got on the board with a two-out rally in the second with two singles followed by a home run by Bruins left fielder Kennedy Powell.
The crowd again had something to cheer about when Silva ended the second by retiring Meoño, but UCLA had already put up what was likely an insurmountable lead. With Arizona facing Megan Faraimo in the circle, one run would be a difficult deficit.
A 3-0 Bruins lead proved to be more than enough, but it wasn’t the end of the Bruins’ scoring by any means. UCLA added two more on another single-homer sequence in the third. Yet another home run in the fifth put the Bruins up 6-0. They added two more in the seventh for the final margin.
Arizona had its chances to at least put some runs on the board. The Wildcats put two runners on in the third and the sixth, and one runner on in the second, fourth and fifth innings.
The best opportunity came in the final inning. With Lauren Shaw relieving Faraimo, Arizona put its first three runners on base.
Sophia Carroll, in her first game back after being out last week, hit a single up the middle. Izzy Pacho, returning after two weeks off, stepped in to pinch hit for Paige Dimler and hit a single down the left field line. Carroll chanced it, going first to third and narrowly beating the tag.
“I feel great about having [Pacho] back,” Lowe said. “She had a great practice yesterday. Obviously, being out two weeks, you just never know. But it was nice to get her in the game and feeling good, and it feels like she was a little bit more light today, so that was nice to see.”
Dakota Kennedy then got on base for the third time by getting hit by a pitch. With the injuries Arizona has dealt with, it was a scary moment.
The bases were loaded with no outs. Arizona’s two, three and four hitters were up. It looked like a prime opportunity to at least avoid the shutout. Instead, DiNardo popped up on the infield. Allie Skaggs got into a 3-0 count, then struck out looking on a changeup. Finally, Devyn Netz followed Skaggs with another strikeout looking. Game over.
The Wildcats ended the game leaving 10 on base.
Silva pitched two innings, giving up five earned runs on five hits. She struck out one.
Ali Blanchard pitched 4.1 innings in relief. She gave up three earned runs on four hits and three walks. She also struck out one.
Blanchard said that her curve was working for her early on, but eventually UCLA caught up to some of her slower pitches.
“I think they just started to see the ball better,” Blanchard said. “I think they were starting to sit on the slow pitch, so I had to throw more hard pitches in the zone.”
Sydney Somerndike got the last two outs of the top of the seventh. She did not allow a baserunner in her 0.2 IP while striking out one.
Kennedy had the strongest offensive showing for the Wildcats. She had two hits—both of the bunt variety—in three at-bats and was hit by a pitch to get on base three times.
“I wasn’t really going into those at-bats thinking I was going to bunt,” Kennedy said. “I was ready to hit, but just looking at the defense I felt that it would go my way.”
It went her way both times, but the hit by pitch was a scary moment for a team that has been so low on players all season.
“I do come unglued,” Low said. “Because those are your players...I thought the pitch was really inside and I just didn’t want another one to go down.”
Fortunately, Kennedy appears to be fine.
“I’ll be here tomorrow,” she said in her usual upbeat manner.
Arizona also welcomed back utility Kaiah Altmeyer, who has been out since Mar. 10 with back issues. Lowe said that Altmeyer is still not able to bat, but she is able to run and has done some work in the field during practice. It gives the Wildcats 17 of their 18 players available in some capacity with slugger Carlie Scupin expected back within the next few weeks to complete the team.
Regardless of who comes back, it would not be a surprise to continue to see Kennedy and DiNardo hitting together in the lineup. Lowe also said that the Wildcats would see about the lineup throughout the weekend based on matchups, so DiNardo may continue as the starting catcher.
“[Kennedy] just plays the game hard,” Lowe said. “She’s savvy, knows when she can lay down a bunt but also just drive the ball. And she’s scary to defend, so she’s had a great conference season so far...[She] and Liv really communicate well together, so I like that combo next to each other.”
The win gave Faraimo her 20th this season. She was tied for second in the nation with 19 wins coming into the weekend.