Arizona softball keeps playing with fire but still hasn’t been burned.
A walk-off sacrifice fly by Bella Dayton lifted the Wildcats to a 7-6 extra-inning win over Northern Iowa on Friday, mere hours after they eeked out a 2-1 win over Long Beach State.
Combine those two victories with their 4-3 win vs. Seattle last Friday, and three of Arizona’s seven wins have been decided by one run.
“That shows a little bit of the parity of the sport right now, and we’ve told our kids you can’t play the name game anymore,” said coach Mike Candrea. “Anyone on any given day can come out and that’s a good little team and Long Beach is a good team. And the only good thing about today is we found a way to win. ... We just gotta sharpen up, so it’s probably good that we play these close games because you don’t learn anything from beating someone 15-0.”
WALK OFF! With the bases loaded and nobody out, freshman Bella Dayton lifts a fly ball to center to win it.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 15, 2020
Arizona beats Northern Iowa 7-6 in 8 innings. pic.twitter.com/KDnZpoYDOs
While it was a freshman who notched the game-winning RBI, the seniors were the driving force in No. 4 Arizona avoiding an upset.
Trailing 5-3 in the fifth, Malia Martinez launched a towering three-run homer to left to give the Wildcats a 6-5 lead.
After UNI tied it with a sacrifice fly, UA second baseman Reyna Carranco made two diving catches to preserve the 6-6 score—one in the sixth that stranded the bases loaded and the other in the eighth that left a runner on third.
Senior righty Mariah Lopez came on in relief for Alyssa Denham, and tossed 3.2 innings of one-run ball to pick up her fifth win.
“It’s again the seniors stepping up in a big moment,” Candrea said. “Take the good and there’s some bad that we need to work on, but that’s the time of the season we’re in.”
Northern Iowa scored in five of the first six innings, plating the game’s first run on the second pitch of the game when Sammey Bunch belted a solo homer to left.
UNI singled and walked to begin the second, and tallied its second run when Martinez could not squeeze a throw on a fielder’s choice, allowing the runner to round third and touch home.
A sac fly gave Northern Iowa a 3-2 lead, and it became a 4-2 advantage when Adara Opiola ripped a double to left in the third.
Arizona answered in the home half when Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza lined a double to right center to score Carranco from first.
Martinez and Palomino-Cardoza, who also crushed a two-run homer in the first, were the only Wildcats to hit for power Friday.
Arizona tallied 20 hits in the doubleheader—11 vs. UNI—but only four went for extra bases. Palomino-Cardoza, another steady senior, accounted for three of them.
“I’ve been fairly pleased with our offense to this point,” Candrea said anyway. “We’re not playing junior colleges, so we’re not gonna be sitting here hitting bombs all the time, and I thought their pitching was good. And when you face good pitching, the offense sometimes will struggle.”
Arizona’s pitching has been inconsistent. Denham’s day ended in the fifth after a single and botched fielder’s choice put two on with one out. Lopez surrendered an RBI single to extend UNI’s lead to 5-3, but fanned two batters to leave the bases loaded.
Altogether, Denham allowed five runs (four earned) on four hits, two walks and three strikeouts. She’s opened the 2020 campaign with two dominant and two subpar outings.
“I think a lot of it with her is just her posture on her drop ball,” Candrea said. “Taryne (Mowatt) went in the bullpen and helped her out a little bit and she came out and had a good inning, but then I just felt like we weren’t getting any strikeouts, so I thought Mariah would come in and kind of see what the difference is.”
A single, walk, and hit by pitch led to the game-tying sacrifice fly off Lopez in the sixth.
The international tiebreaker rule is used during early-season tournaments, so both teams began the eighth with a runner on second.
Lopez induced a strikeout and pop out to strand a runner at third in UNI’s half. Arizona brought three batters to the plate in its half, all reached base.
Izzy Pacho reached on a mishandled sacrifice bunt, and wisely scooted to second after noticing no one was covering the bag. Hanah Bowen then drew a seven-pitch walk to load the bases for Dayton.
She punished the first pitch she saw into deep center field.
“After Bo walked, I just got up there and was like ‘I need to put the ball in play, maybe to the right-center gap to score the runner,’” said the left-handed hitting Dayton.
The freshman dazzled in her Hillenbrand Stadium debut, going 3 for 5 with a walk and three stolen bases in the doubleheader.
Most importantly, she ensured the Wildcats keep finding ways to win.
“It’s just an exhilarating moment being able to play with such great people and having the ability to be on that field,” Dayton said.
Freshman catcher Sharlize Palacios, the projected starter, made her season debut Friday, starting the second game of the doubleheader after missing the first six games of the year with a broken thumb on her glove (left) hand.
She batted in the seven-spot, going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a lineout to center before being replaced by Pacho in the seventh.
“She did alright,” Candrea said of Palacios. “She was kind of struggling a little bit [catching] the pitch on the [inside part] of the plate. Izzy’s healthy and done a good job back there and I just really felt like it was a good time for her to come in and give some stability behind the plate with our pitchers. But Sharlize will be fine. A broken finger, man, it takes a little while. So I commend her for being able to get out there tonight. Offensively, she ran into one ball, and our freshmen, other than Bella Dayton, she looks like she enjoys that big moment, are pressing a little bit.”
Here’s Coach Candrea after Arizona’s one-run wins over Long Beach State and Northern IowaPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, February 14, 2020