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Mariah Lopez ‘exceptional’, but Arizona softball falls to No. 2 Oklahoma in extra innings

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Until Saturday, Arizona softball had found a way to win the close ones, with three of their first eight wins being decided by one run.

They finally faltered.

No. 2 Oklahoma outlasted No. 4 Arizona 6-4 in 10 innings on Saturday in a game that had a Women’s College World Series feel, with the added twist of the international tiebreaker rule taking effect in extra innings.

In the end, Arizona’s inexperience showed.

Freshman Bella Dayton dropped a routine fly ball in left field in the 10th, allowing the go-ahead runs to score with one out in the frame.

Two pitches earlier, the same OU batter—Grace Green—hit a towering popup behind home plate that Izzy Pacho, in her first season as Arizona’s starting catcher, could not track down.

UA’s offense had plenty of opportunities to walk it off before that, leaving the bases loaded in the eight and a runner on third in both the ninth and 10th innings. (The international tiebreaker rule places a runner on second in extra innings.)

The Wildcats fall to 8-1 and will wrap up the Hillenbrand Invitational Sunday vs. Long Beach State, who beat the Sooners (7-1) in walk-off fashion earlier in the day.

“I thought that we competed very well tonight, I thought it was a good ball game, we just have to learn to finish,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “We just couldn’t cash in. We had bases loaded no one out, and I’m thinking this game’s over, but it just didn’t quite happen tonight. So the thing I like about tonight is that’s the type of game that we have to learn to play in.”

Mariah Lopez was certainly up for the challenge. The former Sooner pitched four gusty innings in relief, only allowing one hit and the two unearned runs while racking up five strikeouts against her former school.

And, for a moment, it looked like she was primed for a Hollywood finish.

Lopez relieved Alyssa Denham with nobody out in the seventh, holding a 4-3 lead, needing to strand a pair of runners in scoring position to seal the deal.

But sports have no script, and the Sooners tied it when Kinsey Koeltzow narrowly beat a throw to the plate on a fielder’s choice.

With runners on the corners and still nobody out, they were still in business to add more, but the rally was extinguished when No. 2 hitter Jocelyn Alo, OU’s best bat, curiously bunted into a double play.

Lopez got the next batter to foul out to preserve the tie, and stranded two more runners in scoring position in the eighth and ninth to give Arizona’s offense several chances to win it.

Lopez said she treated Saturday’s reunion with the Sooners as any other game, but it was clear her pitches had some extra punch, never mind that she threw seven innings of one-rule ball just hours earlier in a win over Bryant.

“Mariah came in and did exceptional,” Candrea said. “She proved to me tonight that she’s got another gear that she can go up to.”

The rest of the team could have used it. Arizona loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth, but Jessie Harper grounded into a fielder’s choice before Malia Martinez lined into a double play.

That encapsulated a mostly frustrating night of offense. Harper’s solo homer to right tied the game at 1-all in the fourth and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza and Reyna Carranco had clutch RBI singles to give UA a 4-2 lead in the fifth, but otherwise hits were few and far in between.

Arizona hit .152 on the night and left 13 on base, with four of their five base knocks coming from seniors. The bottom four hitters in the lineup were 1 for 21, Dayton’s bunt single in the third being the lone hit.

“We’ve got some growing pains that we went through tonight with some young kids,” Candrea said. “The popup Izzy misplayed, popup Bella misplayed. And you play in a big game like that and that situation you just can’t have those mistakes. But the only way they’re going to learn is by going through it.

“So I’ll take this game and say ‘you know what, that was a great learning experience, even though we got beat.’ I thought the team played hard and I think they understand that where they need to be to play this game at a high level.”