It took longer than expected, but Jessie Harper is on the board.
The senior shortstop homered for the first time this season, lining a two-run shot over the right field wall to help Arizona softball beat Seattle 9-1 in six innings on Friday.
The fourth-inning blast was Harper’s 77th career home run, passing Jenny Dalton for fifth in Arizona history and 12th in NCAA history. Harper is now 19 shy of breaking the all-time record held by former Oklahoma first baseman Lauren Chamberlain.
“You can see [Dalton’s] number out there, that’s where every player wants to end up—out on that wall here at Rita Hillenbrand,” Harper said. “I’m just happy that my power-hitting numbers help my team win, help [Hanah Bowen] get another little bit of confidence under her belt, knowing that she can go out there with an extra run. But at the end of the day, we’ve had some amazing people come out of Arizona. So if you’re mentioned with some of those people you know you’re in a good place.”
Harper has insisted that she isn’t thinking about home run chase, but seemed to be pressing early in the season, logging just five hits in her first 20 at-bats. Her seven-game homerless streak was the longest since her sophomore season.
She also singled and walked Friday.
“I can’t answer whether she’s pressing or not, but in my eyes I think she was, for a while there, making things more difficult just with her vision, not seeing the ball and swinging at bad pitches because she was making decisions really early,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “I thought today she got her eyes down in the zone where they need to be and I was really pleased with her first at-bat, showing some patience laying off some borderline pitches. But I’m not worried about her. She’s a kid that plays the game with her heart on her sleeve and works hard at the game and she’ll continue to do that.”
Part of the reason Harper said she doesn’t feel much pressure is because of all the talent around her. If she doesn’t come through, she knows someone else will.
That was certainly true Friday as Arizona put up another prolific day at the plate. Nine different Wildcats had at least one hit as they scored at least nine runs for the sixth straight game.
Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza had a two-run single, Dejah Mulipola (solo) and Peanut Martinez (two-run) both cranked homers in the third inning and freshman Carlie Scupin ripped an RBI single in the fourth, a few batters after Harper gave the Wildcats a 7-1 lead.
Redshirt freshman Sharlize Palacios completed the run-rule in the sixth with an RBI single. The Wildcats have scored 75 runs during their 8-0 start and were 5 for 11 with runners in scoring position on Friday, an area they have been clutch all season.
“It’s a very mature hitting team,” Candrea said. “It goes back to the senior class. Their database is very broad and I think they understand what they have to do to perform at this level. And we have some freshmen that have kind of stepped in and shown that same promise, possibly watching that senior class every day and learning from it.”
While this was already Arizona’s seventh mercy-rule win of the season, it was a lot more competitive than the others.
Seattle shortstop Brooke Milder launched a solo homer to left to cut Arizona’s lead to 2-1 in the third, just a half-inning after Palomino-Cardoza laced a go-ahead two-run single up the middle.
The Redhawks put two more runners on base in that frame when a pair of hard, but playable grounders, skipped past Harper at shortstop. Bowen was able to work out of the jam thanks to some shoddy Seattle baserunning.
One batter later, the runner on first tried to tag up on a deep fly out to center but left her base early. Arizona smartly appealed the play and the inning was over. With more attention to detail, Seattle would have had two runners in scoring position with two outs and their cleanup hitter at the dish.
The Redhawks would only put one runner in scoring position the rest of the day when Carley Nance clanged a double off the left-field wall to begin the fifth. Leadoff hitter Olivia Viggiano lined out to center to strand the runner on third.
Bowen allowed four hits and struck out five in six innings of work, a strong follow up to the no-hitter she threw in her debut last weekend against New Mexico. Milder’s third-inning homer was the first hit Bowen allowed this season.
What you’re seeing, Candrea said, is Bowen’s improved velocity and command in action.
“I think I’ve improved a lot,” Bowen said. “Just my consistency, attacking the zone and just having a great mindset out there. ... My mindset is just stay consistent and commanding each pitch and just stay strong and attack each pitch.”
The Wildcats host Oregon State on Saturday at noon in a non-Pac-12 game. It is their first big test of the season.
“We want to beat that Pac-12 team and we want to make it hurt,” Harper chuckled.
You can stream it on Arizona Live Stream 2.