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Arizona softball: Jessie Harper homers as Wildcats blank Drake, improve to 6-0

The Wildcats were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position, though

Ryan Kelapire

Danielle O’Toole tossed five shutout innings and Nancy Bowling pitched two scoreless frames as No. 10 Arizona shut out Drake, 7-0, to improve to 6-0 on the season.

O’Toole (4-0) allowed just two hits while striking out four, lowering her ERA to 0.28 on the season. Bowling, making her second appearance of the season, relieved O’Toole to start the sixth inning and allowed just one hit.

Drake only got one runner into scoring position all game.

“We got the job done. [O’Toole] threw the ball well, Nancy threw the ball well,” UA head coach Mike Candrea said. “Any time we can save some innings (for O’Toole) we’ll save some innings.

“We had enough runs on the board that we had the opportunity to bring Nancy in.”

The Wildcats had six hits on the night, with Mandie Perez and Ashleigh Hughes leading with two hits a piece.

Meanwhile, freshman Jessie Harper homered for the second time this season, and freshman Reyna Carranco walked four times.

Perez, Harper, Mo Mercado, Dejah Mulipola, Alyssa Palomino, and Tamara Statman each had one RBI.

“Pick your poison. With our lineup right now, I like what I see,” Candrea said. “It’s deep and we can make things happen every inning. And when the bottom of your order is your hottest, it keeps turning that order around. It’s a good thing for us.”

The Bulldogs’ pitchers had trouble finding the strike zone as they walked 12 batters, putting runners on base for Arizona all night.

The Wildcats did not take complete advantage of it, though, as they left 15 runners on base, hitting just 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

Arizona stranded the bases loaded in four of its six innings at the plate.

“That happens. I’ve seen it a million times,” Candrea said. “We hit two balls right on the money right at someone. It’s just the way the game goes sometimes.”

In the first inning, Mercado drew a bases-loaded walk to put Arizona up 1-0, but then Statman and Harper popped out and struck out to leave the bases loaded.

The second inning was similar — the first three hitters reached base for the Wildcats, including an RBI single by Perez to bring home Carranco to make it 2-0, but three runners would be stranded again.

Candrea says Arizona had trouble with Nicole Newman’s riseball at times, as the Drake starting pitcher was able to get timely strikeouts and popouts to escape jams.

“The one thing that we talked about was being able to stay on top of the riseball or identifying the riseball and laying off,” Candrea said. “Overall I thought we did a good job of that. We showed some discipline early in the game, and we had a couple young kids that don’t quite understand that when the ball goes up, they can’t be dropping the barrel and swinging up. So that’s a good [game] for us to go through. That’s a good pitcher.

The Wildcats tacked on an unearned run in the third before the floodgates opened up in the fifth inning when Arizona chased Newman out of the game.

Harper started the frame with a solo homer, launching a deep drive over the batter’s eye in center field to push Arizona’s lead to 4-0.

The freshman first baseman is hitting .333 this season.

“I just went up there with a different plan,” said Harper, who struck out and popped out earlier in the game. “We were getting a lot of popups because of [Newman’s] up-spin.

“I didn’t want the pitcher to get me again.”

The next three batters reached base — two of them via walks — before Mulipola walked with the bases loaded to make it a 5-0 game.

An RBI groundout by Palomino made it 6-0, then another run crossed the plate when Statman was hit by a pitch, putting Arizona up 7-0.

The scoring would stop there, however, as the Wildcats would leave the bases loaded in both the fifth and sixth innings.

“We definitely need to capitalize on those times, just getting a good pitch and putting a bat on it,” Harper said. “We were able to clean it up with our defense. [O’Toole] pitched a great game... but we definitely need to come out in the next few games and capitalize on those type of [situations].”

Arizona has three shutouts and has committed just two errors this season.

The Wildcats return to action Friday when they continue the Wildcat Invitational against Ball State and Abilene Christian at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., respectively.

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire