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Arizona softball: Wildcats open season with 8-1 win over Fordham in Hillenbrand Invitational

Arizona starts its season off on a high note

arizona-wildcats-softball-ali-ashner-phoenix-college-return Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Katiyana Mauga homered and drove in two runs and Danielle O’Toole allowed just one run through seven innings as No. 10 Arizona beat Fordham 8-1 in its season-opener at Hillenbrand Stadium on Thursday night.

Mauga’s homer — a solo shot in the third inning — was the 68th of her career, putting her 19 away from tying Arizona’s all-time home run record, and 27 shy of tying the NCAA record.

“It’s definitely motivating. A small distraction, but I try to go on the field and not think about it,” Mauga said after the game. “Because I’m thinking about my team and I’m thinking about my at-bat right then and there and not thinking ahead.”

It was not an ideal start for the Wildcats as the Rams led off with three straight singles off O’Toole to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.

However, O’Toole, who said she was nervous at the start, was able to prevent any further damage by getting a fielder’s choice (cutting off a runner at home) and two strikeouts to end the inning.

“It’s my last first college game, so obviously I’m a little nervous and then I wasn’t expecting them to be attacking me so quickly,” O’Toole said. “So I changed the gameplan a little bit and I got on a roll.”

Did she ever.

After allowing the first-inning run, O’Toole tossed six scoreless innings in a row, allowing just one hit over the final six frames, while striking out nine Rams.

“As soon as you see somebody hacking you, you have to change whatever you’re doing or else the rest of the first inning will happen the whole game,” O’Toole said.

Added O’Toole, with a laugh: “I could tell you what I threw, but I don’t want to.”

It did not take Arizona’s offense any time to settle in, though.

After Fordham’s early run, Arizona quickly took a lead of their own in the bottom half of the first. UA left fielder Mandie Perez singled to right, which was followed up by a bunt single by freshman catcher Dejah Mulipola in her first career at-bat.

Perez bolted for third after the third baseman came off the bag to field the ball and slid in safely. Meanwhile, Mulipola advanced to second on the play.

UA right fielder Alyssa Palomino singled to right in her first career at-bat to drive in Perez and two throwing errors on the play allowed Mulipola and Palomino to score, giving Arizona a 3-1 lead.

“It’s always part of our gameplan,” UA head coach Mike Candrea said of his team’s aggressive base running. “We definitely want to take advantage of every thing that the opposing team gives us. So I like aggressive base running, but I like aggressive base running that’s smart.”

Mauga’s homer in the third inning pushed Arizona’s lead to 4-1.

Katiyana Mauga homer

“It was definitely a one-arm swing,” said Mauga, who said she didn’t get make the best contact. “I was way out in front, but it went over.”

Later in the third, pinch hitter Tamara Statman drove in two runs with a two-out single to center to increase the Wildcats’ lead to 6-1.

Statman’s 2-run single

The Wildcats added two more runs in the bottom of the fourth to take an 8-1 lead as Mauga knocked in Mulipola with a sacrifice fly and Mo Mercado scored on a wild pitch after reaching on an error.

In total, Arizona tallied nine hits on the night and went without an error, while Fordham had four hits and three errors.

Eight different Wildcats registered in the hit column.

Mulipola was 2-for-2 with a stolen base, two runs scored, and a walk, while fellow freshman Jessie Harper notched her first career hit with a single in the first inning.

Palomino was 1-for-3 with an RBI and a walk. Mercado, starting at shortshop, was 1-for-3 with two runs scored.

“We came out strong tonight and that’s what we predicted for this team and we’re just going to keep rolling from here,” said Palomino, who sat out last season with a knee injury. “We got the nerves out, we got the butterflies out, and now it’s time to really get down to it.”

The Wildcats return to action Friday when they host Cal State Northridge. First pitch at Hillenbrand Stadium is scheduled for 5 p.m.

Fordham beat No. 21 Baylor 1-0 before losing to Arizona.

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire