OKLAHOMA CITY — Alabama got the timely hit, Arizona didn’t, and now the Wildcats are heading home.
Alabama first baseman Bailey Hemphill doubled home two runs and snared a line drive to help the Crimson Tide escape a critical jam as they beat Arizona 2-0 on Saturday to eliminate the Wildcats from the Women’s College World Series.
“That’s just the way softball is,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “And unfortunately, I’ve been through a lot of those games.”
Arizona finishes the season 48-15 overall. It was the Wildcats’ first WCWS appearance since 2010, making it an overall successful season for the storied program.
“That’s the goal of the season, and to get the last game, but unfortunately we weren’t able to do that,” said junior catcher Dejah Mulipola. “But going into my senior year, we know...what it takes to get here.”
And how difficult it is to win.
With two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth, UA second baseman Hanah Bowen ripped a frozen rope to the right side that Hemphill somehow snagged to save at least a couple runs.
Just before Bowen’s lineout, Pac-12 batting leader Reyna Carranco struck out swinging, the second straight game she fanned with runners in scoring position with less than two outs.
The junior played through the postseason with a broken hand, but Candrea downplayed its impact on her inability to come through with the key hit.
“It was a constant conversation with me and her and she’s ready and it’s kind of hard to not play our best hitter throughout the year, and it’s unfortunate that she didn’t have the results that that we want,” he said. “But I promise you she had a really good (batting practice) ... and just didn’t get it done.”
Alabama ace Montana Fouts, who beat Arizona in February, held the Wildcats to three hits to go along with three walks and nine strikeouts.
UA left fielder Carli Campbell coaxed a walk in the fifth, but was caught stealing second to end the inning, a puzzling decision since NCAA home run leader Jessie Harper was in the batter’s box as the potential tying run.
“With two outs, I’m figuring (Harper’s) looked at two pitches, why not have her lead off the next inning if she gets thrown out?” Candrea explained. “Otherwise, we have a runner at second base and she gets a base hit and we score a run. I mean, hindsight is is wonderful, but unfortunately, we don’t play the game that way. And sometimes it’s what’s in the moment and sometimes the ball bounces a different way.”
Arizona started No. 2 pitcher Alyssa Denham, which didn’t pan out either. The junior righty only lasted three innings. In the third, she walked No. 8 hitter Maddie Morgan on four pitches and leadoff hitter KB Sides on five pitches to bring up Hemphill.
The SEC’s RBI leader laced an 0-1 pitch into the left-center gap to plate both runners. Denham said the WCWS will be a learning experience for her and the team.
“Now we actually know what we are working for next year,” she said with tears in her eyes. “We’ve experienced it and now I think that it’s gonna light a fire under us.”
Senior Taylor McQuillin, who threw 100-plus pitches in UA’s first two WCWS games, entered the circle in the fourth and only allowed one hit in four scoreless innings of work in her final appearance as a Wildcat.
“Denham has thrown some big ballgames for us this year and got in a little bit of trouble and was getting squeezed on her best pitch, which is a screwball,” Candrea said. “And so that’s what I thought I needed to make change to give us a different look, because she wasn’t going to be effective.”
Arizona first baseman Rylee Pierce gave the Wildcats some life at the end by leading off the seventh with a deep drive to right field.
But it was hauled in at the warning track, a microcosm of Arizona’s season.
“It’s a journey to get here and I’m very proud of this team,” Candrea said. “Like I told them, there’s a lot for them to be very proud of. Number one, getting us back to the College World Series. Number two, it’s hard to understand the experience here until you’ve been through it. So I think it will definitely be a great positive for the kids coming back in our program that have been able to feel this and understand what the stage is all about.
“But when you get here, it’s a competition. And it’s a game of inches. I mean, we could be sitting here talking about Hanah Bowen getting the base hit to right field and driving in two runs, but that’s kind of the way the ball bounces sometimes. Rylee Pierce hits the ball on the nose and it stays in the ballpark. We’ve been on both sides of the coin, so I have no regrets.
“I love this team. I think this team has done everything that I’ve asked them to do. They have committed to the journey, committed to the process each and every day and then become a family. They’ve taken care of each other. They understand what it takes to be a team and, to be honest with you, this is probably one of the most fun years that I’ve had coaching softball.”