It pays to have star power.
Danielle O’Toole tossed a one-hit shutout and Katiyana Mauga homered to become the Pac-12’s new home run queen as Arizona softball beat South Carolina 5-0 on Saturday in the Tucson Regional.
With the win, Arizona stays in the winner’s bracket and needs just one more victory to advance to Super Regionals.
“It was a hell of a performance for us,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said. “When you get into the regional, this is the game that you have to have to take control. It doesn’t mean that you’re there yet, but we put ourselves in a good position tomorrow.”
Mauga’s third-inning blast, a solo shot to deep center which gave UA a 1-0 lead, was the 91st homer of her career, putting her atop the Pac-12’s all-time home run list and second on the NCAA’s all-time leaderboard.
The senior was 2 for 3 with three RBIs and ripped a two-run single in the fifth inning, giving Arizona a 5-0 cushion.
“When Kati’s hot and she’s hitting the ball where she’s pitched, she’s a weapon,” Candrea said. “And obviously any swing she takes the ball can leave the ballpark.”
O’Toole (29-4) carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning, but it was broken up by a one-out double by Victoria Williams.
Still, the left-hander only needed 75 pitches to go the distance, striking out seven and walking none. It was her ninth shutout of the season.
O’Toole said her changeup was key to keeping the Gamecocks off balance.
“Another great thing with [O’Toole] was her ability to go through the lineup and not really use her off-speed pitch and then all of a sudden the second time around (the lineup) that came around,” Candrea said.
“Those are little things in the postseason that you have to be able to do. And if you have the luxury to be able to hold a pitch back through the second or third time through a lineup, it’s pretty beneficial.”
Arizona tallied five runs (one earned) on nine hits off South Carolina starter Nickie Blue in 4 2⁄3 innings, but the right-hander did an admirable job keeping the Wildcats at bay for the most of the game despite having a shoddy defense behind her.
Mauga’s record-breaking homer was the Wildcats’ only run through the first four innings, as Blue was able to escape a couple jams.
With two on in the third, UA catcher Dejah Mulipola launched a towering drive to center, but Tiara Duffy made a twisting catch at the wall to end the inning.
The Wildcats then loaded the bases in the fourth inning thanks to two singles and a walk, but Jessie Harper bounced out to end the frame.
Harper hit a sharp grounder to the right side, which deflected off second baseman Mackenzie Boesel and, fortunately for the Gamecocks, flew right to the shortstop who caught it and stepped on second for the final out of the inning.
Arizona found itself in an identical situation in the fifth inning, but this time South Carolina wouldn’t get a favorable bounce.
Like Harper, Hillary Edior, who was pinch hitting for Eva Watson, hit a sharp grounder to the right side which Boesel couldn’t field cleanly.
She scrambled to collect the ball and eventually made the throw to first, but Edior slid into the bag to beat it out.
The error put UA up 2-0 and Mandie Perez followed it up with an RBI single, extending Arizona’s lead to 3-0.
Perez hit a soft chopper down the first base line, which Blue didn’t attempt to field, thinking it was going to bounce foul.
It proved to be a costly decision and Blue was subsequently relieved by right-hander Jessica Elliott, though that move didn’t pay off either.
Mauga immediately split the right center field gap to bring home two more runs.
“The thing I like right now is we’re scoring a ton of runs with not just the home run,” Candrea said. “If you look at the bottom of the order right now, they’re been very productive and to me I think that’s huge for us.
“I know one thing about postseason is the short game will always be there. The speed and the short game will always be there. The hitting sometimes comes and goes, especially with great pitching. Great pitching will most of the time take care of great hitting, but when we can manufacture runs, which I think we can, I go back to history and the championships that we won, it was because, not so much our bombers, but the short gamers that could get on base and make things happen.”
Timely hitting is important, too, and the Wildcats hit 4 for 13 with runners in scoring position and scored four of their five runs with two outs.
“I really thought offensively we didn’t do a lot of great things, but man we were on base,” Candrea said. “We left 12 runners on base and had a lot of opportunities. We were one key hit away from blowing it open, but I go back to the innings that we did score to give ourselves some runs, and that was done with two outs. And I think one of the traits of good teams is as long as you have an out, you have a chance and we had some really good at-bats with two outs.”
The Wildcats will face South Carolina (again) or the winner of the Saint Francis (PA)/New Mexico State game on Sunday at 4 p.m. PT.
UA’s opponent, whomever it may be, has to beat Arizona twice to win the Tucson Regional.
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