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Arizona softball blows late lead in loss to Texas A&M to open Mary Nutter Classic

At least Sharlize Palacios shined

COLLEGE SOFTBALL: FEB 15 OKLAHOMA AT ARIZONA Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After seeing his team give Team USA all they could handle in a 5-4 defeat on Tuesday evening, Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea joked that his senior pitchers now had no excuses going into the Mary Nutter Classic.

“You shut out the U.S. team, dammit, you better shut out whoever we’re playing,” he said.

They didn’t get the shutout, to put it mildly. After a great night shutting things down against Team USA, Alyssa Denham and Mariah Lopez combined to give away a six-run lead handed to them by their offense.

Texas A&M went on to beat No. 5 Arizona, 7-6. The Aggies improved to 10-3. The Wildcats dropped to 9-2. They have another game this evening vs. No. 18 Missouri.

On a positive note, freshman catcher Sharlize Palacios had a big game, going 3 for 4 with two RBI.

She has been making up for lost time ever since returning from broken thumb that sidelined her for the first week of the season. Standing in for Dejah Mulipola, Palacios has a .462 batting average, placing her second on the team behind Jenna Kean.

Denham entered the circle Tuesday night with her Wildcats down five runs to the best team in the world, and she put a stop to it. She started off Thursday afternoon against Texas A&M the same way, but ran into difficulty in the late innings.

The senior righty went 5.1 innings before being lifted for Mariah Lopez. Denham gave up six hits and four earned runs. She struck out six and walked three while lowering her season ERA to 2.48.

Lopez took the loss, dropping her record to 6-2. She allowed two runs in 1.2 innings, but only one of them was earned. She also gave up two walks and two hits while striking out two. Her ERA increased to 1.00 on the season.

Through the first three innings, Denham allowed one walk and one hit. A third runner reached base on an error, but only one runner got as far as second base.

Meanwhile, the Arizona hitters were equally hot out of the gates. Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza got things started with a two-out single, then was moved into scoring position when Jessie Harper reached on a throwing error. Fellow senior Malia Martinez knocked them both in with a 3-run homer to put the Wildcats up 3-0 after one.

Arizona put some pressure on the Aggies in the second, but couldn’t scratch any runs across. That wasn’t the case in the third.

Once again, the seniors got it going. Harper and Martinez both walked to put two on in front of Palacios. The backstop got her second hit of the game with an RBI single to put Arizona up 4-0.

The scoring wasn’t over, though. After Peanut Martinez sacrificed the runners over, Ivy Davis got Malia Martinez in with a groundout for the 5-0 Wildcat lead.

It looked like smooth sailing, but Denham hit a bump in the top of the fourth. Designated player Haley Lee got it started for Texas A&M with a double down the right field line. Two batters later, a two-run homer off the bat of Morgan Smith put the Aggies on the board.

But Palacios was not done. The Wildcats loaded the bases on singles from Bella Dayton and Reyna Carranco, then a walk from Palomino-Cardoza. Harper fouled out, then Malia Martinez struck out. It looked like a prime scoring opportunity might fall by the wayside until the freshman stepped in. Her third hit and second RBI of the day pushed the Wildcats’ lead to 6-2.

Denham seemed to get back on track, too, sitting down the Aggies in order with the help of a great play in center by Palomino-Cardoza to start off the inning.

But she couldn’t keep it going. The Aggies were making contact, and it paid off in the top of the sixth.

Denham walked two of the first three batters she faced in the sixth inning. Both came in on a single by Payton McBride. Arizona’s lead was down to 6-4 and Denham’s day was over.

Lopez entered with one on and one out, but couldn’t stop the bleeding. A single. A walk to load the bases. Another walk to push a run across. Texas A&M trailed by only one run with bases loaded and still only one out.

Then, the wheels really came off. An RBI single to right field by Makinzy Herzog turned into two runs for the Aggies on a throwing error by Peanut Martinez. Texas A&M led 7-6 after a 5-run inning. The Arizona lead was gone.

The Wildcats got two on in the bottom of the seventh, but couldn’t push the runs across.