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Arizona softball powers way to two wins vs. GCU in Saturday’s doubleheader

One low-scoring game and one high-scoring game.

Alyssa Palomino hit two homers in return from a knee injury
Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats softball team won both games of Saturday’s doubleheader against GCU. Here are the recaps for each victory.

Game 1

Malia Martinez’s solo homer was enough offense for No. 10 Arizona as it outlasted GCU 1-0 in a pitcher’s duel.

The two teams combined for just eight hits and the game was scoreless until Martinez’s fifth-inning blast.

Arizona left-hander Taylor McQuillin (21-9, 1.62 ERA) tossed a three-hit shutout, walking one, and striking out seven.

GCU right-hander Brianna Aguilar went six innings, walking one and striking out two. Her changeup stymied the Wildcats’ offense.

“The first game we just had a very difficult time adjusting to the speed of that pitcher,” UA coach Mike Candrea said. “I commend them. They did a very nice job of keeping our pitchers off balance and that shows you how powerful the off-speed pitch can be. I’m glad Malia ran into one because we struggled offensively off that. And we were preparing for it all week — the slow stuff. But we didn’t realize how slow it would be.”

It was Martinez’s first homer since March 11 against USC Upstate. Ivy Davis, Jessie Harper, Dejah Mulipola, and Alyssa Palomino each singled.

Palomino, UA’s best hitter, returned to the lineup after missing Sunday’s game with a left knee strain.

“I’m not going to lie and say it feels great because it doesn’t,” she said. “But we take it day-by-day and we keep it at bay when we can. I just try to go out there and not think about that too much.”

Palomino’s teammates have been impressed by her ability to play through pain.

“It makes me think that anything is possible, for sure,” Harper said. “Any little thing, any little bump in the road is not the end of the world. She’s come back from two ACL injuries and didn’t look like anything has stopped her.”

Game 2

Offense wasn’t an issue in the second game. The Wildcats exploded for 10 hits, including five home runs, in a 9-0 mercy-rule victory.

Harper and Palomino each homered twice, as they remain tied for the Pac-12 lead in home runs (17).

“I’m glad she’s on my team, that’s for sure,” Harper said. “Better to keep the competition within the team than with someone else. But I’m just so overly proud of Alyssa. Last week she was here in a full-on brace from (ankle) to (thigh) and I was heartbroken for her.

“But that’s just the type of person she is, she’s a fighter. She was right back here playing and you couldn’t even tell that she was in a brace the week before. She puts in tons of hours with (our trainer) getting rehab done, so I’m glad to be competing with her and I’m glad to have her as a teammate.”

Harper homered in the second inning, then Palomino homered in the third. Then they homered back-to-back in the fifth.

Because of course they did.

“It was so funny because after my second one, me and my trainer we’re in the back (of the dugout) like, ‘she’s going to hit a home run right now because that’s just what me and her do’,” Palomino said.

“And there you go, she hits a bomb.”

Freshman outfielder Jenna Kean hit her first career home run — a two-run shot in the sixth that completed the run-rule.

“It felt great,” she said. “It’s funny because the inning before that, me and Carli (Campbell) and Aleah (Craighton) were talking about how we just want this game to be over, someone needs to walk it off.

“Carli called it and it happened. It was pretty cool.”

Craighton and Kean had RBI singles in the second inning after Harper’s solo homer.

Kean has been stellar since taking over for the injured Ashleigh Hughes in the leadoff spot, posting five hits, five walks, and four RBI in the last six games.

When asked if this is as good of a stretch Candrea could have hoped for from Kean, he said: “No, I expect her to be better. She’s walked in and done a good job. She’s a very quiet young lady and I think that might be a big boost for her. She’s very talented and I think her best softball is ahead of her. And once she learns to stay on the outside pitch with her short game, she can be awesome.

“And to be able to swing the bat like that and to have the speed she has, she becomes a real threat, so we’re hoping that that keeps developing throughout her career.”

UA right-hander Alyssa Denham (10-3, 1.72) threw a four-hit shutout with five strikeouts and no walks.

The sophomore has allowed two runs or fewer in each of her last five starts.

“Denham threw a good game, Taylor threw a good game, and at this stage in the game, we take (wins) anyway (we) can,” Candrea said.

“The key is to keep winning. Again, based on how we play is how I’m basing everything right now. Not so much the opponent. I thought Grand Canyon did a good job and made some defensive plays.”

Arizona (37-13, 11-10 Pac-12) will go for the sweep of GCU on Sunday at 1 p.m in what is UA’s final regular season home game.

The Wildcats will hold a ceremony for their three seniors — Craighton, Hughes, and Robyn Porter — afterward.

Porter pinch-hit in the fifth inning in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, which was just her 25th career at-bat. (She impacts the program in many other ways.)

She struck out swinging on a changeup.

“It was nice to get Robyn in the game tonight,” Candrea said. “I was hoping she’d run into one.”

Postgame interviews

RF Jenna Kean

Here is Jenna Kean’s postgame interview. She hit her first career homer vs. GCU, which was also a walk-off

Posted by Ryan Kelapire on Saturday, May 5, 2018

HC Mike Candrea

Here is Mike Candrea’s postgame interview after GCU

Posted by Ryan Kelapire on Saturday, May 5, 2018

1B Alyssa Palomino

Posted by Ryan Kelapire on Saturday, May 5, 2018

SS Jessie Harper

Posted by Ryan Kelapire on Saturday, May 5, 2018

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire