Alyssa Denham texted Mike Candrea on Friday night with a simple message: she was ready.
The sophomore right-hander, who was the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year last season, had only pitched 38 innings entering Saturday’s series finale vs. Cal, and was patiently waiting for her chance to shine.
”I just knew that if my name was called, I was going to be ready,” she said.
Well, she got an opportunity and could not have capitalized any better.
Denham tossed 6 1⁄3 scoreless innings in relief and No. 11 Arizona erased an early three-run deficit as it completed the sweep of No. 22 Cal with a 7-3 victory.
The Wildcats improve to 27-6 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12, just a half-game behind UCLA and Washington for second in the conference.
“She came in and did a helluva job,” Candrea said. “Sometimes you have these breakout moments as players, and I thought today was one for her.”
Things were spiraling out of control early for Arizona before Denham provided a steady hand out of the ‘pen.
Denham (4-0) entered in the first inning after Cal had plated three runs on four hits off freshman Hanah Bowen, who struggled in her Pac-12 debut.
Denham retired the first 13 batters she faced, and allowed just one hit which was nullified by a double play.
“We had decided that we were going to start Bowen because of her screwball and their lefties and it didn’t work out that way,” Candrea said. “But (Denham) came in and shut the door down. That’s a big thing for us. I told her I hope I never have to take her out of another game.”
In all, Denham faced 19 batters and got 19 outs. Only three came via strikeout as she induced plenty of soft contact.
It was her first appearance in four games.
“I was just hitting my spots, really,” she said. “I took control of every count. I think I only fell behind in the count maybe once or twice, and I knew I was going to make them earn it. I wasn’t going to give them any freebies.”
Alyssa Denham pitched 6.1 scoreless innings in relief, helping Arizona overcome an early 3-0 first-inning deficit in its win vs. Cal: “At that point, I just knew that I was going to be ready if my name was called.” pic.twitter.com/kb1xCdxQVI— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) March 31, 2018
As Denham stymied the Bears, the Wildcats’ bats got going and they were able to dig themselves out of the early hole.
Jessie Harper grounded into a double play in the first to score Arizona’s first run, then Aleah Craighton homered and Carli Campbell ripped an RBI single to tie the game in the second.
Alyssa Palomino then homered to left-center in the third to give Arizona the lead. That forced a Cal pitching change, which didn’t exactly stop the bleeding.
Malia Martinez roped an RBI single to right off Kamalani Dung, then Tamara Statman lined an RBI single to left to extend the lead to 6-3.
Harper added a solo homer in the fifth, her Pac-12-leading 12th of the season. Arizona tallied 11 hits and its seven runs were the most it had scored since March 18.
“I’m just really pleased with our fight, but more importantly our quality of at-bats throughout the day,” Candrea said. “I thought we really did a good job sticking to a plan, some of things we’ve been trying to work on all week came to fruition in this game. And we had some really good at-bats, a couple long balls, but it was fun to see that we could put up seven runs again. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to do that.”
Now winners of three straight, Arizona will head to Eugene for a three-game series against Oregon.
The Ducks are ranked fifth in the country, and the Wildcats were swept by Washington in their first Pac-12 road series, so Candrea hopes his team can carry its momentum into next weekend.
“There are lot of things for us to be happy about,” he said. “Now we just have to get ourselves prepared to go to Eugene and get after Oregon. They’re a good team, good pitching. Maybe this will help us have a little bit of a plan when we walk up there.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire