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No. 1 Florida State rallies to beat Arizona softball, win series

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

A late rally came up just short as Arizona softball fell to No. 1 Florida State 4-3 on Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats dropped the series two games to one.

A handful of self-inflicted errors ultimately came back to haunt Arizona on a breezy day at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Leading 3-1 through four innings, Arizona (18-7) looked in command for much of the game until Florida State’s Dani Morgan hit a three-run homer to give the Seminoles the lead.

Alyssa Denham started the game for the Wildcats and was nearly flawless until the fifth inning, when she gave up a crucial one-out walk despite getting ahead in the count 0-2 on FSU’s Sydney Sherrill.

Denham then walked another batter to put runners on first and second for Morgan, who drilled a three-run homer into the left field bleachers.

“I didn’t go right after the three-four (hitters in the lineup) and I missed one pitch in the whole game and that’s how it goes,” Denham said.

Arizona took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza hit a leadoff double, followed by an RBI fielder’s choice from Jessie Harper.

Florida State (25-2) responded in the top of the third inning with one run of its own. That run could have been avoided if not for a couple of fielding mistakes by the Wildcats.

With one out and a runner on third, Denham induced a ground back to the mound but instead of getting the sure out at first, Denham threw to third with no avail. A strikeout and a walk put the bases loaded with two outs.

FSU’s Morgan hit a sharp grounder to third, where Arizona third baseman Malia Martinez fielded the ball but dropped it on her way to tag third base, allowing a run to score.

Martinez redeemed herself in the bottom of the inning when she hit a two-run single to give Arizona a 3-1 lead.

“That’s my highlight of the day,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. “That’s what we talk about all the time. She reset, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

In the seventh inning, Arizona had a chance to tie or win the game but couldn’t pull it off. With runners on second and third with two outs, Hanah Bowen struck out looking to end the game.

Despite dropping the series, all was not lost for the Wildcats this weekend. In fact, far from it.

Candrea praised the team’s effort after dropping the series opener Friday 5-3. Arizona responded Saturday with an 11-3 run-rule win over the Seminoles and could have won the series if not for a few too many mistakes Sunday.

“I thought Friday night we didn’t walk on the field expecting to win,” Candrea said. “But yesterday and today I felt that this time found their own character. I think it’s going to be a great addition for us going into Pac-12 play. We played hard and unfortunately today we had some unforced mistakes that come back to haunt you.”

One of the pleasant takeaways from this weekend will be that Arizona can turn to not just one or two but three starting pitchers to take the mound in a given series.

After Arizona ace Taylor McQuillin took the loss in the series opener, Candrea went to Gina Snyder for game two Saturday, and Snyder in turn threw five reliable innings.

Sunday, Denham recovered from a rough stretch in the third and fifth innings to keep Arizona’s chances alive until the final out.

Candrea allowed both Denham and Snyder to complete their respective starts, which shows the confidence he has in his staff.

“It was a good opportunity to show that three pitchers this weekend can compete with a top ranked team,” Denham said. “A lot of other teams don’t have that. We have three pitchers that can pitch at any given moment.”

As Arizona prepares for the start of Pac-12 play next weekend, the Wildcats have plenty of positives to work with moving forward.

The Wildcats will be back home Friday to host Oregon in the first of a three-game series.

“I think this team this weekend found our identity,” Candrea said. “I think they finally know what they need to do to come out and play their very best softball, and to me that’s the one thing I take out of this whole weekend is they understand who they are, what they can do. Now it’s time to put it into action.”

Postgame interviews

Mike Candrea

Here is Mike Candrea after Arizona Softball’s 4-3 loss to No. 1 Florida State

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, March 10, 2019

Malia Martinez

Here is third baseman Malia Martinez after Arizona Softball’s 4-3 loss to No. 1 Florida State

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, March 10, 2019

Alyssa Denham

Here is starting pitcher Alyssa Denham after Arizona Softball’s 4-3 loss to No. 1 Florida State

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, March 10, 2019