After rain washed out Arizona softball’s home opener Thursday and Friday, they finally took the diamond Saturday, taking down Louisiana-Monroe and Montana in a double-header on a chilly night in front of 2,319.
The victories push the Wildcats’ record to 6-1 on the season. The games were supposed to start at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., but they were 90 minutes behind schedule because the earlier games of the Hillenbrand Invitational took longer than expected.
Arizona dealt with a power outage in its second game, too (more on that later).
“It was a long day,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “You sit around and wait, the lights go out, there’s so many things today that you’re just glad to walk out of there with two victories, to be honest with you.”
Alyssa Denham spun a gem for the Wildcats against ULM, tossing a complete game shutout as Arizona won 4-0.
The sophomore right-hander struck out five and surrendered just five hits, needing only 65 pitches to get 21 outs.
It was the Louisiana-Lafayette transfer’s home debut, though she said she wasn’t nervous, just excited to finally take the field after two days of inclement weather.
“I think I did OK,” Denham said. “Room for improvement always.”
The Wildcats backed Denham with 12 hits, but scored exclusively via the long ball.
Reyna Carranco, who was 3-for-4, hit a solo shot off the batter’s eye in the bottom of the first.
That was UA’s only run until Jessie Harper launched a two-run homer to right center to push Arizona’s lead to 3-0 in the fifth. That was Harper’s fifth homer of the season. She was 2-for-4.
Then Alyssa Palomino hit a pinch-hit solo homer in the bottom of the sixth as added insurance. Joelle Krist got the nod over Palomino at first and went 2-for-3.
ULM had five singles in five separate innings, unable to string together any sort of rally against Denham.
Then again, nobody has.
Denham (2-0) has allowed just one earned run in 19 innings this season.
“She’s doing a great job of getting ahead,” Candrea said. “Good command of the strike zone. Good command of her pitches. She’s been a real blessing for us. I think she’s going to get better and better.
“And I think (pitching coach) Taryne (Mowatt) has really helped her. She’s starting to pick up a riseball a little bit. So ... she’s going to help us tremendously. She’s doing a good job.”
Denham, the former Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, said the competition at Arizona has been similar to what she faced at ULL.
At least, so far.
“Last year, we played Alabama so I got some good competition there,” she said. “But I know I’m going to get plenty here.”
Arizona beat Montana 2-1 in the second game. Dejah Mulipola’s two-run homer in the third erased an early deficit.
UA left-hander Taylor McQuillin surrendered a solo homer in the first inning, but that’s all Montana could muster from that point on.
“I’ll take the slow start if it means a strong finish,” she said. “Hopefully (Sunday) can be a new day. Start strong, stay strong, end strong.”
McQuillin had 11 strikeouts and allowed just two hits, pitching lights out after the early homer.
The Hillenbrand Stadium lights shut off in the top of the sixth as Montana’s Gabby Martinez lofted a sinking line drive into center.
Blinded and all, UA centerfielder Ashleigh Hughes charged in and made the play for the first out of the inning.
“That was a fabulous catch considering the timing of that,” Candrea said. “That could have been ugly.”
“I’m just glad it didn’t hit her in the head,” Denham said. “Because it would have hit me in the head.”
The lights were timed to turn off at 10 p.m. MST, and they came back on at 10:18. Play finally resumed at 10:21.
The Wildcats danced outside their dugout during their unexpected downtime.
“I’ve never seen the lights go out like that,” Candrea said. “But it won’t happen again.”
The Wildcats had a prime scoring chance in the bottom of the sixth, but pinch-hitter Hillary Edior lined into a double play with two runners in scoring position.
Montana pitcher Michaela Hood snared the come backer, and immediately turned and fired to third to double up Ivy Davis who had no time to retreat to the bag.
Arizona left six runners on base against Montana, and nine against ULM. Candrea thought the soggy field took away Arizona’s short game, but acknowledged his team is a “work in progress” offensively.
Arizona’s offense has overwhelmingly relied on home runs this season.
“The competition is going to get stiffer and stiffer, so we have to do a better job making some adjustments at the plate,” Candrea said. “We’re taking a lot of good pitches and then our two strike approach is terrible right now. We’re just trying to hack away at things. Not trusting our eyes and our hands. That’ll come with some maturity and games.”
The Wildcats return to action Sunday at 1 p.m. MST when they will face Colorado State. Then UA will face Bryant at 3 p.m. MST to cap off the Hillenbrand Invitational.
Assuming there is no more rain, of course.
“This week has been weird, just because of the rain,” Harper said. “I don’t really expect the rain when I think of Tucson. ... [Friday], we were ready to play, I wanted to play, and then the rain just threw it all off. ... But it’s a lot of fun to be out here on this field.”
Don’t run on Dejah
Mulipola gunned down all three runners that tried to steal second on Saturday — and all of them were out by a mile.
“I was so surprised they kept stealing,” Harper said. “It’s so fun having her behind the plate. She has a great arm. … Last year, I know not a lot of girls stole on here, so it’s kinda fun to see them steal on her now. … It really does change the whole mojo of the game.”
Arizona cautious with Palomino
Krist started at first base in the first game because Candrea was worried how Palomino’s knee would hold up on the rain-drenched field.
The redshirt sophomore tore her ACL last May and is still not quite 100 percent yet.
“I didn’t know until this morning if she would be cleared to play,” Candrea said. “And then I watched her in (batting practice), she did a good job. But Joelle deserves a shot and that was her opportunity.”
Palomino is 4-for-21 at the plate this year, but three of those hits have been homers. Krist, a junior, is 4-for-8 but all four hits have been singles.
Candrea said he will continue to tinker with the lineup to find more production.
Don’t park near Hillenbrand
This car got smashed by a foul ball because someone made the rookie mistake of parking just outside Hillenbrand Stadium:
A car outside Hillenbrand just got smashed by foul ball. Never park near the stadium, guys #RookieMistake pic.twitter.com/RpT2MKL8mq— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 18, 2018
Don’t be that person.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire