Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza belted a go-ahead opposite field homer in the fifth inning and No. 3 Arizona overcame some jitters to survive its first scare of the season.
The senior’s two-run blast helped secured a 5-2 win over New Mexico and came just a half-inning after the Lobos grabbed a 2-1 lead. Peanut Martinez sealed the deal in the sixth by lacing a two-run single down the left-field line, a dramatic finish to Arizona’s first game day since March 10, 2020.
The Wildcats run-ruled Southern Utah 8-0 in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader.
“It definitely feels good to be back out here,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “We’ve missed it. We’re excited that there’s other teams in the dugout and not just ourselves. I think we just had to get out some pregame jitters. And I think that this team is still going to keep going strong.”
If this were a normal year, Palomino-Cardoza’s teammates would have mobbed her at home plate after her pivotal homer. In this COVID year, they have to celebrate from the dugout, doing their best to keep their distance during the pandemic.
The players’ cheers and chants livened a fanless Hillenbrand Stadium throughout the day. UA players compared the atmosphere to a scrimmage and know they will have to bring their own energy this season.
“Our fans love to watch these girls play and they are usually very loud and it was just different tonight,” said head coach Mike Candrea. “It was kind of serene. It was like practice, to be honest with you. We should be used to that, but it is what it is right now. I can’t wait for fans to get back here, because I think that’s a big part of Arizona softball, but we’ve got to deal with it.”
The Wildcats looked a lot like a team that hadn’t played since last March, suffering from baserunning mistakes, fielding errors, and mistimed swings.
New Mexico put the go-ahead run in scoring position in the fifth when senior third baseman Malia Martinez, usually a rock-solid defender, sailed a bunt over freshman first baseman Devyn Netz’s head.
Two batters later, Cameryn O’Grady shot a single through the right side and the runner easily scored from second after Bella Dayton’s throw from right field was too high for catcher Sharlize Palacios to corral.
New Mexico’s first run came via a solo homer in the third, tying the game after Dejah Mulipola had given the Wildcats the lead with a first-inning RBI single through the middle.
That long ball was the only extra-base hit Mariah Lopez surrendered in a complete-game effort. The senior right-hander allowed five hits and two walks while striking out 11.
Arizona may have been able to counter UNM’s solo homer in the bottom half of the frame, but Reyna Carranco was doubled off at first after Jessie Harper smoked a line drive to the center fielder—another rare mistake by a senior.
“We haven’t played for a long time and so kids that normally don’t have butterflies had butterflies, and the butterflies were going the wrong way today,” Candrea said. “But it’s a big step to get back on the field and play some games. So I expect that to get better as we get back into the swing of things.”
Arizona’s potential is clear, though. Lopez and Alyssa Denham allowed just one earned run in the doubleheader, while their fellow super seniors combined for 12 hits, two homers and eight RBI. The bottom of the order, a weakness last season, kept turning the lineup over.
Palacios and Peanut Martinez, the No. 7 and 8 hitters, both homered in the first game of the doubleheader. No. 9 hitter Janelle Meono had a career-high three hits in that contest and another base knock vs. the Lobos. The speedy redshirt freshman scored three times on the day.
Dayton, the No. 8 hitter against New Mexico, scored the game-tying run by singling up the middle and setting the stage for Palomino-Cardoza’s game-winning homer. The sixth-year senior deposited the first pitch she saw into the left-field bleachers, the 62nd long ball of her career.
“I think that’s gonna be a strength for us,” Candrea said. “We have a lot of different options and, for any good team, when the bottom of the order produces it just turns the lineup over more, more and more and that’s very important for us. So I really believe that we can put nine hitters in the lineup and be able to turn that lineup over quite frequently.”
The Wildcats host another doubleheader Saturday. They are scheduled to rematch New Mexico at 3 p.m. MST before taking on Seattle U at 6 p.m. MST.
Every game of the Hillenbrand Invitational will air on Arizona Live Stream 2.