Jessie Harper’s first career postseason hit couldn’t have come at a better time.
Marred in an 0 for 13 slump, the freshman lined a walk-off single into center field, propelling the Arizona Wildcats to a 3-2 win over the Baylor Bears in Game 1 of Super Regionals on Friday night at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“I was just trying to get the ball in the air as far as it could possible go,” said Harper, who stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out.
The victory puts Arizona one win away from reaching the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2010.
“It was a hard fought victory,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said.
Arizona held a 2-0 lead heading into the sixth, but Baylor second baseman Ari Hawkins lifted a two-run homer to left off Danielle O’Toole to tie the game, stunning the pro-Arizona crowd.
However, O’Toole (30-4) rebounded from there, retiring the next six batters she faced to complete her outing. The senior left-hander allowed six hits and struck out four, while inducing 12 groundouts.
“[O’Toole] threw a good ball game,” Candrea said. “She made the one mistake. She got the ball up on an off-speed pitch that was a little fast. The girl (Hawkins) squares it up, hits it out, and made it a game.”
Seniors Mo Mercado and Katiyana Mauga each had three hits for Arizona.
Mercado doubled in Mauga in the first inning to give Arizona an early 1-0 lead, then Mauga hit a solo homer to right in the third to make it 2-0.
“The factor I felt like (was key) tonight was Mo and Kati,” Candrea said.
In the seventh, Mandie Perez led off with a single and Mauga was intentionally walked after Perez advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Then Mercado singled to left, loading the bases for Harper, who received sound advice from Mauga before she lined a 2-2 pitch into center.
“Literally before my last swing, I saw Kati up the middle say ‘stay through something,’” Harper said.
“And I did that.”
The Wildcats outhit the Bears 12-6, but were just 4 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
Arizona stranded at least one runner in scoring position in the first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
The Wildcats left the bases loaded in the fourth.
After a 14-pitch walk to Dejah Mulipola and a pair of singles by Reyna Carranco and Ashleigh Hughes, Gia Rodoni struck out Hillary Edior, who pinch hit for Eva Watson, and Perez to escape the jam.
Rodoni (17-3) was tagged with the loss, but had tossed 3.2 scoreless innings heading into the seventh.
She relieved starter Kelsee Selman who surrendered two runs on five hits and was removed after Mauga’s solo homer.
“I’d say they’re probably the best lineup I’ve faced,” Rodoni said. “We’ve faced great lineups throughout the whole year, but knowing Arizona ... they’re a great hitting team. I knew they would be tough to face and tough to beat.”
Selman will get a second chance on Saturday as Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said the right-hander will start Game 2.
First pitch is set for 6 p.m., and it will be broadcast on ESPN.
Taylor McQuillin (16-3, 1.72 ERA) will likely start for the Wildcats.
- Bears left fielder Kyla Walker’s first-inning infield single was her 82nd hit in 2017, setting a new Baylor single-season record. She later tripled and scored on Hawkins’ homer.
- Mauga’s third-inning homer was the 92nd of her career, putting her three shy of tying the NCAA’s all-time record (held by former Oklahoma Sooner Lauren Chamberlain)
- Harper turned 19 on Friday, capping off her birthday in style with a walk-off hit
- O’Toole is Arizona’s first 30-game winner since Kenzie Fowler in 2010
You can follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire