The Arizona Wildcats worked extensively on their situational hitting in the offseason for moments just like this.
Trailing No. 7 Alabama by two in the fourth, the Wildcats had the tying runs in scoring position with nobody out, a prime opportunity for a comeback. A well-placed hit ties it. Even a measly flyout brings home a run and puts a dent in the Crimson Tide’s lead.
Instead, familiar problems arose for the Wildcats.
Alabama ace Montana Fouts zipped her best fastball past Malia Martinez, Rylee Pierce, and Hillary Edior for three straight strikeouts to strand both runners, and the Crimson Tide would hold to beat No. 9 Arizona 6-1 on Saturday at Hillenbrand Stadium.
The Wildcats were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position, dropping their average in those situations to .196 on the year and .105 if you omit the routs against cupcakes Illinois State and Illinois-Chicago. Arizona’s inability to get timely hits plagued them last season, too.
Perhaps even more concerning is Arizona’s defense has suddenly become shoddy. The Wildcats did not commit an error in their first five games, but have now made eight in their last three games, including four against the Tide.
Three of the six runs Taylor McQuillin (1-3, 2.33) surrendered against Alabama were unearned. None of the four runs she surrendered in Friday’s loss to USF were earned, either.
Alabama scratched two runs in the second after Maddie Morgan ripped an RBI single to left and McQuillin walked in a run.
The Tide added another in the fourth when a screaming line drive popped out of the glove of Arizona left fielder Carli Campbell, allowing a runner to score from second instead of ending the inning.
In the first inning, Ivy Davis, who initially started in left, could not corral a towering popup, causing it to plop onto the outfield grass.
That mistake did not lead to a run, but the Crimson Tide capitalized in the sixth when Skylar Wallace doubled home two runners who reached on errors, before a pinch-hit homer by Caroline Hardy gave Alabama a five-run lead in the seventh.
Arizona’s lone run crossed the plate in the fourth when Wallace, Alabama’s second baseman, could not handle a sharp grounder off the bat of Dejah Mulipola after Reyna Carranco and Jessie Harper singled to begin the frame. Fouts limited the damage from there.
Back-to-back two-out singles by Harper and Martinez gave Arizona another scoring opportunity in the sixth, but pinch-hitter Hanah Bowen popped out to end the threat. Fouts held the Wildcats to six hits and struck out eight.
Arizona drops to 4-4 on the season, with losses to No. 5 Florida, No. 7 Alabama and two unranked teams in NC State and USF.
The Wildcats will try to get back on track against New Mexico in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.
Note: Arizona players and coaches are unavailable to the media until the New Mexico game concludes.