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Jessie Harper’s homers lead Arizona softball past Drake

The junior shortstop leads the Pac-12 in home runs

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Jessie Harper homered twice and Taylor McQuillin got some key outs in relief as Arizona softball pulled away late to beat Drake 9-4 on Friday at Hillenbrand Stadium.

The long balls were Harper’s sixth and seventh homers of the season, the most in the Pac-12.

Her first homer, a two-run shot in the third, broke a 1-1 tie and plated Reyna Carranco who ripped a game-tying RBI double in the previous at-bat. That came two innings after the Bulldogs scored on a double steal.

Arizona did not log its first hit until the third, but the offense exploded from there.

After the three-run third, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza hit a gap-splitting double to left-center to score Rylee Pierce in the fourth, then Harper blasted a solo homer to center in the fifth to push the lead to 5-1.

But Drake, which beat No. 12 Arkansas this season and received votes in this week’s NFCA Poll, did not go down quietly.

Libby Ryan clubbed a two-run homer to begin the sixth, then UA righty Alyssa Denham, who allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits, walked the next two batters, forcing UA coach Mike Candrea to summon McQuillin from the bullpen.

The senior surrendered an RBI double, before punching out the next two batters to preserve the one-run lead, pumping her fist as she skipped to the dugout.

Arizona’s offense took over from there, breaking the game open with a three-spot in the seventh. Pierce homered to left, then Palomino-Cardoza singled up the middle to score Carli Campbell and Jenna Kean.

It was redemption for Palomino-Cardoza, who struck out with runners in scoring position in Thursday’s win vs. Drake.

She later scored when a high-bouncing grounder off the bat of Malia Martinez ate up the Drake second baseman, though it was ruled a base hit.

The Wildcats (11-5) will play Kent State in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader. Gina Snyder will start in the circle.

Arizona suddenly has a dilemma within its pitching staff. Denham, the No. 2 starter, has been roughed up in consecutive starts, while Arizona’s other non-McQuillin arms have allowed just three runs in 17 innings this season, not even including Snyder’s four-hit shutout against Japan.

The Wildcats face No. 23 Minnesota on Saturday evening, then No. 19 James Madison on Sunday afternoon, so it will be interesting to see who gets the nod in those games, assuming McQuillin doesn’t start both, though that is certainly a possibility.

Note: Arizona players and coaches are not available to the media until the second game ends.