Missouri transfer Rylee Pierce knew about the Arizona-ASU rivalry when she arrived at the UA in the fall, but it wasn’t until this weekend when she slipped into her uniform that she truly felt its intensity.
“I didn’t understand what it was like to feel all the emotions and all the excitement that come with it,” she said, “and the last three days have been really, really fun.”
Pierce homered and had an RBI single Sunday as No. 11 Arizona beat No. 18 Arizona State 2-0 to complete a dominant three-game sweep. The Wildcats outscored the Sun Devils 18-0 for the series, their first-ever shutout sweep of ASU.
So, yeah, you could say it was really fun.
“We didn’t just beat ‘em,” Pierce said, “we made a statement.”
For just the fourth time ever, Arizona (27-7) has won nine straight to open Pac-12 play. Ace Taylor McQuillin twirled a two-hit shutout Sunday, striking out seven Sun Devils.
“We just gotta keep putting the pedal to the metal,” she said. “‘All gas, no brake’ is our motto right now.”
It also describes the way Arizona’s pitching staff has been cruising through batting orders lately. McQuillin has only allowed one run in her last five starts, including three straight shutouts. The senior left-hander also blanked the Sun Devils on Friday.
In between, No. 2 starter Alyssa Denham tossed a two-hit shutout Saturday.
“For them to come out and do that … it’s a huge testament to their work ethic, to (pitching) coach (Taryne Mowatt), and to the entire staff,” Pierce said. “No runs against one of the leading offenses in the country? That’s huge.”
The Sun Devils actually had the nation’s No. 1 offense entering the series, averaging over nine runs per game. Yet, they only mustered six hits all series, only one of which went for extra bases.
“We’re getting good pitching, we’re playing good defense and getting some hitting,” said UA coach Mike Candrea.
Arizona run-ruled ASU 8-0 in each of the first two games of the series, so Sunday represented a colder day offensively as it tallied six hits.
Candrea thought his team was the victim of some bad luck, but also didn’t help itself by having some “anxious at-bats.” He noted that catcher Dejah Mulipola, who doubled in the first inning, popped out with a 3-0 count in the third.
“We hit about seven balls right at people and couldn’t find a hole, but we did what we had to win,” Candrea said.
Pierce supplied all the offense the Wildcats needed. The senior ripped the first pitch she saw in the fourth to left for an RBI single after Malia Martinez and T Statman reached base to set the table.
Two innings later, Pierce blasted a solo shot off the batter’s eye to give McQuillin some extra breathing room.
“She made some adjustments after the first night,” Candrea said of Pierce. “She was getting a little bit long with her swing, her hands were casting back as she was going forward and getting separated, so we talked to her about getting her hands set and getting more efficient to the ball, and it worked out.”
Aside from Martinez bobbling a grounder at third, Arizona played solid defense all series, committing just the one error.
Second baseman Reyna Carranco made a diving stop in the fifth to prevent the leadoff hitter from reaching. An inning earlier, Mulipola gunned down a runner stealing second.
It was that defensive mettle that helped McQuillin escape a seventh-inning jam after she surrendered a walk and single to begin the frame.
“It made me realize that, hey, I can use my defense. My defense is behind me. I’m not by myself in this situation.” McQuillin said. “And we got three popouts, and that’s the win.”
The Wildcats host a doubleheader against UTEP Wednesday before heading to Salt Lake City for a three-game series at Utah.
“It’s a difficult place to play,” Candrea said. “So these desert rats need to get prepared for the cold weather, big field and high altitude.”