It was hit hard enough, but did it have enough lift?
Katiyana Mauga wasn’t worried.
“I [thought] it was high enough,” she said.
It was. Barely.
A laser-like drive off Mauga’s bat squeaked over the left field wall, providing an insurance run for No. 3 Arizona as it shut out No. 6 Oregon 2-0 on Friday night at Hillenbrand Stadium.
Mauga’s fifth inning solo shot was the 87th of her career, putting her in a tie for the school’s all-time record.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it during that time,” she said afterward.
Which is probably why she launched one out of the ballpark.
“That home run she hit was because of her keeping her head screwed on and not trying to do too much,” head coach Mike Candrea said.
It was Mauga’s 20th homer of the season, a milestone she has reached in all four seasons at Arizona.
“I knew when we recruited her that she was going to be a power hitter,” Candrea said. “I didn’t realize that she could do it four years in a row.
“I think the thing I tip my hat on is 20 home runs is something, but to do it four times in a row when people are trying to throw around you [is something else].”
Danielle O’Toole (24-2) tossed a five-hit shutout for the Wildcats, striking out three and walking one. Megan Kleist (12-2) got the nod for the Ducks and allowed two runs (one unearned) on seven hits in six innings.
Kleist couldn’t keep pace with O’Toole, who thanked her defense, which was stellar all night.
“That’s what it’s about,” O’Toole said. “I love it. None of that would have happened without them.”
The Ducks didn’t put a runner into scoring position until the sixth inning and that’s when things got dicey for Arizona.
Oregon had runners on second and third with one out and their best hitter, Nikki Udria, at the plate.
With a .223-hitter behind Udria, O’Toole “unintentionally intentionally walked” the slugger to load the bases.
“How do I say this — I didn’t walk her on purpose, but I walked her on purpose,” O’Toole joked.
It proved to be a wise decision, but largely because of two spectacular plays by the Wildcats’ infield.
The next batter, Jenna Lilley, hit a grounder toward UA second baseman Reyna Carranco who scooped it up and fired a throw to the plate that was just in time for the second out in the inning.
Carranco didn’t even think about taking the sure-out at first instead. She knows better.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Mauga said. “Because once they score one, and we don’t get an out on it, they’ll feed off of that. I think her going for that play at the plate was definitely helpful for us.”
Still, the bases remained loaded, only with two outs this time. That’s when Mauga fully extended to make a diving grab in foul territory for the final out of the inning.
“Let’s go!” she yelled after preserving O’Toole’s shutout.
“It was great,” O’Toole said.
Even better than Mauga’s record-tying homer.
“Yeah, because we were in a tough situation,” Mauga said. “I just wanted to do it for Tooly.”
Arizona’s defense shined, but Oregon’s wasn’t as sharp. The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an error by Lilley.
With runners on the corners, Mo Mercado hit a grounder to third which skipped past Lilley into left field, bringing home Mandie Perez, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning.
Lilley’s error was the product of a unique advantage Hillenbrand Stadium offers the Wildcats: the sun.
“The sun was a factor, but we’ve been practicing and I’ve been playing here for four years,” Mauga, UA’s third baseman, said. “I was like ‘too bad, I’ve played here and I know what to do.”’
Hillenbrand Stadium’s crowd fueled the Wildcats, too. An empty seat couldn’t be found.
“Hillenbrand tonight was like I remember it being back in the 90s,” Candrea said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had the energy and I told the kids it’s them that’s going to provide it. Let’s face it.
“I told them before this weekend, ‘this place, you’ve never seen it the way it’s going to be.’ I thought tonight was a good example of that.”
The Wildcats (44-3, 14-2 Pac-12) and Ducks (37-5, 10-5 Pac-12) are back at it at Hillenbrand on Saturday for the second game of the series. First pitch is set for 2 p.m., and it will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Arizona has already surpassed its win total against Oregon from last season. The Ducks swept the Wildcats in three games in Eugene. A series Candrea said he thinks about “every day.”
“This is as close to a College World Series game as you’ll get at this stage,” he said.
“This [win] is an important one, but we’ve been here before. I think [the key] is coming out tomorrow and keeping the pedal to the metal. Oregon’s not going to go away. They’re going to come back strong.”
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire