The Arizona softball team completed the sweep of the Texas Longhorns on Sunday, beating the visiting team 4-2 to cap off the three-game series.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats improve to 18-1 on the season. Texas falls to 11-9.
“This is a great non-conference series for us because it’s a quality team, it’s a three-game series,” UA head coach Mike Candrea said. “It’s a little different when you’re playing someone three times. ... I think it was a good experience for our young kids to get prepared for Pac-12.”
Danielle O’Toole (10-1) picked up her 10th win of the season, tossing her eighth complete game of the season, allowing two earned runs in seven innings.
The two teams combined for just seven hits and both committed four errors as the wind gusted on a cloudy day at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“It was a tough day today,” Candrea said. “Not often do you have four errors and win. It was kind of a sloppy game. The wind had something to do with it and I was disappointed in our adjustments at the plate with the wind blowing. Like I told the girls, anything in the air was an out so you have to learn how to hit pitches you can stay on top of … but it’s a good experience for us to go through.”
Arizona scored two unearned runs thanks to some defensive miscues by the Longhorns, and scored three of its runs in the first inning.
Mandie Perez and Alyssa Palomino drew walks, then Katiyana Mauga reached to load the bases after Texas third baseman Celina Felix could not haul in a high throw from the left fielder.
Mo Mercado then singled to right to plate two runs (one scored after the right-fielder mishandled the ball) and Jessie Harper followed it up with an RBI single of her own to put the Wildcats up 3-2.
Texas starter Tiarra Davis, who pitched six innings of three-run ball on Friday, was pulled after Harper’s single.
Brooke Bolinger pitched 5 2⁄3 innings in relief, allowing one run.
“Going in and knowing that we’ve already faced her, we had a plan with her,” Harper said of Davis. “We knew that she has more up-spin so we had to stay on top of it.
“Knowing that you already faced her kinda gives you more relief and you know what to look for when you go up to bat.”
Texas took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first when designated player Mickenzi Krpec lifted a two-run homer to left field off O’Toole.
“I missed it big time,” O’Toole said of her pitch location. “It was a changeup and it was really high. … I was not ready.”
It was the first home run the left-hander has allowed all season, but despite the four errors by UA’s defense (O’Toole committed two of them), those were the only runs Texas could muster off the redshirt senior.
“Tooly didn’t throw her best game today, but threw well enough to win,” Candrea said. “It’s not easy to throw in this weather unless you’re from South Dakota.”
Candrea categorized O’Toole’s errors as “unusual.” One of them was a misfielded bunt, and the other was a throw that sailed wide of first baseman Joelle Krist.
“She is one of the best fielders in the country. … She was on the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team. She’s as good of a fielder as you see on the mound,” Candrea said of O’Toole.
“I think she’s as good as the Jennie Finches that we’ve had. The Nancy Evans that are kids that played another position when they weren’t pitching. She’s phenomenal as a defensive pitcher, so I don’t worry too much about that.”
The Wildcats weren’t burned by their four errors, but the Longhorns were.
Arizona tacked on an insurance run in the third inning when Mercado scored on a throwing error.
Nancy Bowling flied out to center and Mercado, who was tagging up from second to third, was able to cross home plate after the throw skipped past the third baseman, extending UA’s lead to 4-2.
Texas put the go-ahead run on first in the fifth inning after a single and a pair of errors by the Wildcats loaded the bases, but O’Toole induced a ground out to escape the jam.
Texas was 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Arizona was 2-for-10. Both teams left six runners on base.
“Knowing that we can do better and still win the three games, I think it’s nice,” O’Toole said. “Especially for me. I wasn’t on today and I wasn’t the other day. I did OK in my book, but knowing that we can all do better, I think that’s really saying something.”
O’Toole’s ERA rose to 0.65 on the season, as she has now allowed five earned runs in 68 innings.
“Don’t lose the fact that we won all three from what I think is a good team,” Candrea said. “This team finds a way to win and that’s the good side of it.”
The Wildcats return to action Friday when they begin the CSUN/LMU Tournament in Southern California. Arizona will play six games in three days with its opponents being Cal State Northridge, Quinnipiac, Hartford, CSU Bakersfield, Loyola Marymount, and Bryant.
Harper makes debut at second base
Freshman Jessie Harper has been a fixture in the Wildcats’ lineup this season, but she exclusively played first base until Sunday’s game when she slid over to second base.
“Coach told me that I was going to go to second and I took it as another challenge,” Harper said. “Coming out here as a freshman, I’ve learned from all the older girls so I was ready for it. I was kind of shocked with the change, but I was definitely ready for it. Mo has been helping me a lot working at first and second, so I think it was a good change.”
Harper was recruited as a shortstop and said playing second is “kind of similar.”
“She’s a middle infielder. She was recruited as a shortstop. She can play second,” Candrea said. “First base is more different to her than second base.
“I was trying to do a couple things. One, trying to get some other people an opportunity and see what they do in pressure situations. And try to look at some different combinations. We have people — and it’s going to happen throughout the year — where we have some people struggling that we need to be able to move some things around. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
There is nothing wrong with using Harper at multiple positions, either.
“She’s very versatile. She practices everywhere,” O’Toole said. “If you come to practice, she’s at short, she’s at second, she’s at first, she’s everywhere. It’s not surprising.”
Harper had six putouts and an assist in the game, while hitting 1-for-3 with the RBI single.
“They trust me out there, so that’s good,” she said.
Harper, who usually bats sixth, is hitting .305 this season with five homers and 16 RBIs.
“I think she’s a kid that could hit anywhere in our lineup,” Candrea said
“It’s great to have her where she’s at right now, but she’s a great hitter. She’s the real deal and I think our freshman class is really talented and the thing you can’t overlook is that there’s a process that they have to go through.”
Added Harper, “Small adjustments are going to have to be made here and there for everyone, but I think I’ve been seeing [the ball] pretty well. It’s just knowing that if Mo (Mercado) gets on, I have to move her.”
Mercado was 2-for-3, raising her season batting average to .491.
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