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Arizona softball sweeps New Mexico State to snap losing streak, build confidence heading into ASU series

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The Wildcats’ six-game skid is over

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona softball team won both games of a doubleheader Wednesday against New Mexico State, improving to 29-11 overall. Here are the recaps for each game.

Game 1

Arizona hit four homers en route to a 7-3 victory over New Mexico State in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader at Hillenbrand Stadium.

It was the Wildcats’ first win since March 31 and it snaps their six-game losing streak.

UA left-hander Taylor McQuillin had a no-hitter going into the fifth but it was broken up by an infield single. She then allowed three runs in the sixth as the Aggies avoided the shutout.

Alyssa Palomino kicked off the scoring for the Wildcats early, drilling a two-run homer over the batter’s eye in center in the very first inning.

Dejah Mulipola hit a solo shot in the second, then Jessie Harper and Mulipola each launched two-run homers in the fifth to extend the lead to 7-0.

Arizona tallied 11 hits as a team. Harper, Palomino, Mulipola, and Aleah Craighton each had two. The Wildcats left the bases loaded in the fourth when Jenna Kean lined out to left.

“We needed it a lot,” Mulipola said of the victory. “We need every win, but tonight we really proved coming off all those losses that we could come back, fight back, and get ready for this weekend (at ASU).”

McQuillin (19-8) struck out 10, but her command was spotty, walking six. Two of the three runs she allowed were unearned, as the Wildcats got a little sloppy at the end, committing two errors.

Head coach Mike Candrea thought the Wildcats’ energy level was low, so he gave a fiery speech after the game.

“The first game we were doing a lot of things that have been the reasons why we’ve been struggling,” he said. “Just emotionally draining. I don’t know how to put it. ... And our biggest problems are ourselves right now. And young kids sometimes have a hard time fixing it. So I finally just blew up between games and said this is where we’re at. I need your help. You need to fix your mindset.

“The game’s 90 percent mental. So if it’s 90 percent mental and you don’t take care what’s between your ears, then your physical skills can’t do what they’re very capable of doing. So I’m going to fight like hell to get this group to understand that, but that’s really all it’s about.

“Sometimes you play the game where you feel like you’re on an island by yourself and you’re in a batter’s box by yourself, and your on defense by yourself, and that’s not how this game’s played. It’s a team sport, but you have to help one another and embrace when someone tries to pick you up when things happen and that’s what we haven’t been good at and we have to get better at. So when you’re in a competition, it should be us against the competition, not us against ourselves. And that’s kind of what I felt like. And we’ve had a tough stretch and that doesn’t help. But I’m the type that says ‘alright, are we going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?’

“The solution to me right now is very kid has to bring everything that they have to the ballpark to do what they can do help this team be successful. If they do that, they’re capable of playing with anyone. We’ve seen it. And so it starts from the circle and it gravitates out.”

Game 2

Arizona responded to Candrea’s blowup by winning the second game in dominant fashion — a 9-0 victory in five innings.

“It just boosts our confidence,” Mulipola said. “Like hey, we’re on a winning streak now.”

The home run parade continued, and it was Palomino who jumpstarted Arizona’s offense once again.

The first baseman hit a two-run homer in the first, and Ivy Davis connected for a two-run bomb in the second. Davis’ homer started a four-run second inning. Two runs later scored on a throwing error.

Harper drove home two in the sixth, landing a towering flyball between two NMSU outfielders in left-center for a double. Harper would later score when the NMSU centerfielder failed to corral a line drive off Mulipola’s bat.

“It shows that our bats are super hot, that we can do it,” UA right-hander Alyssa Denham said of the offensive outburst. “Everybody in our lineup can hit a bomb, and it showed.”

Denham (6-3) was masterful in the circle, throwing a two-hit shutout. She fanned a season-high eight batters, and walked none. Her ERA improved to 2.18.

“I was coming out fired up,” she said. “I had a job and I wanted to let our offense have fun and so I knew if I could shut them down, it would give our offense an opportunity to score a lot of runs.”

Denham and Mulipola believe the wins will boost the Wildcats’ confidence heading into their next series.

“I think this was a really good opportunity for us to show what we’re capable of and prove it not only to ourselves, but to everybody else,” Denham said. “When you have a rocky start or a rocky patch, it’s really good to come out and beat them.

“Yeah, we need wins, but I think it was good for us to prove to ourselves that we really are a really good team.”

Candrea was pleased with the Wildcats’ spirit in the second game.

“The whole complexion changed in the second ballgame,” he said. “So hopefully today we’ll maybe click a little bit. So it was good in that regard. I thought we made some strides. That was a different team in the second game than I’ve seen in a while.”

Arizona returns to the diamond Friday when it begins a three-game series in Tempe against No. 8 ASU.

The Wildcats, 6-9 in the Pac-12, are 0-6 on the road in conference play, but they played in Tempe earlier in the year as part of the Kajikawa Classic.

“I like playing there. I think it will be a very good crowd,” Candrea said. “They’re playing well, they’ve got a good team. We have to give it our best shot and tonight was part of that.

“If you’re going to give it your best shot, don’t beat yourself up and don’t beat yourself mentally. Get yourself prepared, be positive, and go out there and compete. We’re looking forward to that. It will be a good weekend for us. We need to prove to ourselves right now that we go on the road in a tough environment and win because that’s what it’s all about. And if we don’t do that, we’ll probably be leaving Hillenbrand a week earlier and they can start construction a week earlier.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire