After dropping the first game on Sunday, the Arizona Wildcats were able to rally in the do-or-die second game to advance to the Super Regional round.
The game ended in the bottom of the fifth inning when Mo Mercado smashed a ball into the left field grandstands to put the Cats ahead by eight runs.
"I sure in hell didn't want to see that game go another inning," Arizona head coach Mike Candrea joked afterwards. "I sure was glad to see that walk-off homer. I didn't want to see another two innings of (LSU's) offense."
Mercado had struggled all weekend up until the final game where she went 4-for-4 with the home run. The freshman entered the second Sunday game with an 0-for-9 at the dish in Regional play.
"That was big for Mo," Candrea continued. "She made some adjustments today and not a bigger hit than the last one."
"The second game I kind of took a new mindset and made her throw more pitches," Mercado added. "I was expecting inside, and I got it."
On if the 4-for-4 day erases the memory of the struggles she had beforehand, Mercado said "It definitely helps. Throughout this whole weekend I haven't hit like I normally do, so ending on a good note is definitely leaving me on a good high for Supers."
Shelby Babcock got the start in the circle after Estela Pinon had thrown 121 pitches in the first game.
"I'm just happy for Babcock," coach Candrea said. "She's been waiting for this opportunity, and took advantage of it. Kept us in the ballgame."
"She just needs to learn to relax, keep breathing, and play the game," coach continued. "Too many times they get ahead of themselves and worry about things before they even happen. To pitch at this level, you have to stay in the moment. You can't pitch careful in this league. You gotta be aggressive and you gotta attack. We really felt with her offspeed pitch that she could keep them off-balance. Estela does not really have one. So that was the first time that (LSU) saw it. Shelby's been really good one time through the order for us, but today we really had no choice and I thought it was big for her to step up and finish that game because we're going to need her."
The offense for Arizona made Babcock feel comfortable in the circle right from the get-go. My (and everyone else's) Regional MVP Hallie Wilson led the game off with a home run, and the Wildcats never looked back.
"With two strikes on me I was just looking for a pitch that I could hit," Wilson explained. "And she gave me that down-and-out pitch that I really like, and I swung as hard as I could."
"I think that really feeds a lot of energy and a lot of confidence," Candrea added about the home run's effect. "When Hallie struggles, it kind of floats down."
The Wildcats kept putting it on Kelsee Selman, forcing LSU head coach Beth Torina to go back to Baylee Corbello with just two outs recorded in the first inning.
Corbello was already above 400 total pitches for the weekend, and finished above 500. Even though she dominated Arizona in the first game, tossing a three-hitter, the Wildcats got to her in the second game.
"Without question (it was fatigue)" coach Torina said. "We've never put her in that situation at any point this year. To ask a freshman to carry that kind of load I think is a lot. I think she did all she could for us. She battled as long as she could. We just asked her to give us a chance."
"LSU kid battled her butt of the entire weekend," Candrea added to that.
Arizona put up at least two runs in each of the five innings in the second game. That kind of consistency is what everyone is accustomed to seeing instead of the measly three hits banged out in the first game.
"I was expecting them to come out with a bit more vengeance in the first game," Candrea said of his team's mental attitude on Sunday. "It was like they were hoping to win, and at this level you can't do that. You have to throw punches and continue to throw punches."
The regional win sets up a Super Regional trip to Louisiana to take on UL-Lafayette, which is a place that has certainly left an impression on Candrea.
"I've been thrown out of every game I've ever coached there," coach said. "I've never completed a game in Lafayette. I'm sure they're looking forward to having me. It's a very vicious place. The fans are absolutely crazy. All I remember is the first base dugout had a damn speaker in it, and they had a Cajun announcer that was yapping his butt off the entire game. You gotta really stay focused, and the biggest thing there is you gotta be the aggressor and take the crowd out. You gotta supply your own energy."
If you were on the fence about watching softball next weekend, hopefully all of that changes your mind.