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Arizona beats Saint Francis behind Taylor McQuillin’s gem, Jessie Harper’s homer

The Wildcats were outhit by the Red Flash, but Jessie Harper’s solo homer was the difference

Photo courtesy Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics

In a game featuring two of the top home-run-hitting teams in the country, it was the pitching that dazzled.

Taylor McQuillin outdueled Abby Trahan, tossing a four-hit shutout as No. 14 Arizona squeaked past Saint Francis 1-0 on Friday to open the Tucson Regional.

Saint Francis, whose 19-game winning streak was snapped, entered as the nation’s leader in home runs.

Arizona was fourth, and it was a fourth-inning blast by Jessie Harper that plated the game’s lone run.

“I expected it to be the team that hit the most home runs was going to win, but I didn’t think it was going to one home run versus no home runs, to be honest with you,” said Saint Francis head coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift. “ … But we had two great pitchers on the mound out there.”

Despite dealing with a tight strike zone, McQuillin overpowered the usually-potent Red Flash, fanning eight and walking four.

But Trahan went toe-to-toe with the UA left-hander until Harper broke the scoreless tie with a screaming homer to left with one out in the fourth.

Dejah Mulipola almost went back-to-back with Harper, but her towering drive was snagged at the wall by Saint Francis left fielder Sierra McKee.

The Wildcats’ bats were quiet otherwise. Trahan limited them to two hits, walking one and striking out one.

“It was big tonight,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said of Harper’s homer, “but I feel we have a lot of people in the middle of our lineup that can hurt you with one swing. Unfortunately tonight, we weren’t squaring the ball up.

“This game humbles you sometimes, especially offensively. You have to have patience, you have to have a plan, and you’ve got to stick with it. You’re going to go through the grind and the good times and the bad times. Tomorrow we’ll put this one behind us and come back refreshed ready to go.”

Hear what Mike Candrea, P Taylor McQuillin, and SS Jessie Harper had to say after Arizona Softball’s 1-0 win vs. Saint Francis Recap➡️

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, May 18, 2018

Ashleigh Hughes made her first start in center field since breaking her hand last month, but went 0-for-3 in the leadoff spot. Alyssa Palomino made her long-awaited postseason debut and ripped a two-out single in the first.

Trahan induced 12 flyouts and five groundouts — a lot of them weakly hit — and retired 14 of the last 15 batters she faced.

“The whole game I just threw a lot of pitches that I knew would get weak contact like curveballs off the plate. Once I saw where (the umpire’s) zone was and what I was getting weak contact with, I just kind of ran with it the whole game, and it worked in my favor,” Trahan said.

“That pitch (to Harper) was just one of those pitches she knew a changeup was coming. That’s all I can say about that.”

Saint Francis rallied in the fifth, drawing back-to-back two-out walks against McQuillin, but she struck No. 3-hitter Madison Cabell with a riseball on a full count to retire the side.

On the pitch before the third strike, Cabell blooped a flare down the right-field line that landed foul by a matter of inches. It would have tied the game if it had been fair.

Saint Francis had more bad luck in the sixth when a line-drive double play ended the inning, erasing a lead-off single.

“It’s one of those things where unfortunately the cards didn’t fall our way tonight,” Patrick-Swift said.

Saint Francis coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift figured their matchup against Arizona Softball would be decided by homers, but she didn’t expect it to be a 1-0 score. Postgame presser ⤵️

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saint Francis will take on Mississippi State at 4:30 p.m. MST on Saturday in an elimination game. Arizona will face North Dakota State at 2 p.m. MST for a spot in the regional final.

The Wildcats watched from the left-field bleachers as NDSU staved off MSU in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader (more on that below).

Candrea says the Bison are a “very aggressive” team.

“They swing the bats, they’re very seasoned,” he said. “They’ve been in postseason so they’re going to be ready. We’re going to get their best shot and we’re going to be prepared to give them our best shot. That’s what postseason is all about.

“I think a lot of times people look at the way postseason was, and if you look at the scores today, the one-seeds and the four-seeds in every tournament were fairly close. They weren’t blowouts.

“And I think that tells you a little bit about how the sport has come. I really feel that this day and age, any team that makes postseason at any time can give you a run for your money. So my big thing with this team is making sure we’re ready to compete, and I thought they were tonight. And they will be tomorrow.”

NDSU holds off Mississippi State for another regional victory

North Dakota State held off Mississippi State, 5-4, on Friday, making it the second straight year and fourth time in the last five years the Bison have won their opening game in a Regional.

NDSU, which has won six straight, used a combination of timely hitting, opportunistic baserunning, and gritty pitching by Jaquelyn Sertic to stave off the Bulldogs.

The Bison (34-17) led 1-0, then trailed 2-1 before re-taking a 4-2 lead in the fourth which it never relinquished.

Both teams had 10 hits, but the Bulldogs left 10 on-base as Sertic worked out of several jams.

“I think it’s huge,” she said of beating an SEC team. “We’re a mid-major, but we like to compete with everybody. We’ve competed with a lot of teams this year and I think it says a lot about what mid-majors can do this year and the last couple years and hopefully in the future. Just because a team is in the SEC doesn’t mean a team can’t go and beat them any given day. Everyone’s beatable.”

The Bison proved that last year. They were the only team to beat the eventual-national-champion Oklahoma Sooners in the postseason.

So don’t think they will be intimidated by the Wildcats on Saturday.

“When a mid-major plays a Power Five school, we’re not supposed to win. That’s kind of the mindset we take into it,” Sertic said. “We’re not supposed to win. We have no expectations.

“It’d be awesome if we went out there and snagged a W, but in the end, we’re not supposed to do anything, so we’re going to go out there and play fearless, focused, and see what we can do.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire