Arizona softball survived its first major test of the season. Barely.
Hanah Bowen ripped a walk-off RBI single through the right side as the third-ranked Wildcats came back to beat Oregon State 3-2 in eight innings on Sunday to wrap up the Wildcat Invitational.
With the win, which does not count as a Pac-12 game, Arizona (10-0) keeps its perfect record intact heading into a two-week trip to Florida.
The Wildcats trailed 2-1 entering the extra frame and tied it when Carlie Scupin lined an RBI single into left with one out. Fellow freshman Giulia Koutsoyanopulos was actually thrown out trying to score from second, but the umpires gathered and determined that the Oregon State catcher was obstructing Koutsoyanopulos’ running lane.
Arizona’s dugout erupted in cheers when the run was counted, and they mobbed Bowen moments later after she drove a 3-1 pitch through the infield to score pinch runner Allie Skaggs from second. That time, there was no bang-bang play at the plate.
“I think [that call] gave us more energy and more attack, and that’s what our game plan was—to punch back,” Bowen said. “My plan was just to shorten up and it hard right side. I knew she was going to score right when I hit it.”
It was a big moment for Bowen, who’s now starting at second base after Reyna Carranco broke her thumb earlier in the week. Clearly it’s nothing she can’t handle.
“I was ready to go my sophomore year (2019) when Reyna got hurt, so I have the same approach this year,” said Bowen, who also walked to lead off the seventh. “Wherever Coach (Candrea) puts me I’m gonna play hard and I’m going to step up for my team.”
Alyssa Denham (4-0) was credited with the win after hurling 107 pitches in a complete-game effort, her first time pitching more than six innings this season.
The senior surrendered the go-ahead double in the top of the eighth—a gapper into left center—but induced two consecutive groundouts to strand two runners and keep the Wildcats within a run, a big deal since the international tiebreaker rule was in effect. (That means each team started the eighth inning with a runner on second base.)
“I’m relying on my defense,” Denham said. “I went in, I just started throwing ground balls. I got to get back to what I do best. .... I think that we handled the pressure really well. I know it was super easy for me to stay calm because I know that our hitters show up every time.”
Denham, who permitted five hits and three walks, was working on her third shutout until the sixth. After Sharlize Palacios’ RBI single gave Arizona the lead in the fourth, Oregon State’s Charity Sevaaetasi lifted a ball to left field and a howling wind gave it just enough carry to be the game-tying homer.
The ball actually clanged off the top of the wall, but UA left fielder Janelle Meoño couldn’t corral it despite a last-ditch leap at the fence. The redshirt freshman didn’t take the best route to the ball.
“It’s understanding the conditions with the wind blowing it out, but number two is being able to know that you can go to the fence hard and then come back,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “And the trouble is sometimes when you start coasting to the fence, you hit the fence and then trying to make a catch is very difficult. You learn from it.”
Sunday as a whole was a learning experience. Facing two different OSU pitchers, Arizona’s offense failed to score at least nine runs for the first time in seven games. They also hit just 4 for 16 with runners in scoring position, an area they had excelled in all season.
Arizona put runners on the corners in the sixth but Peanut Martinez grounded out to third to end the threat. The Wildcats loaded the bases in the seventh but Malia Martinez lined out to right, a few pitches after she slammed a foul ball down the left-field line, missing a walk-off hit by a matter of inches.
Denham gave up a sharp double to the very first batter of the game, forcing her to make quick adjustments to her game plan. The righty finished with seven strikeouts, including four straight from the second to third inning.
“When I came out, my drop ball wasn’t moving as much, so after I got those three outs, I just kind of reiterated to myself what I needed to do and to make the adjustment to actually have the ball breaking and moving down instead of basically a fastball because that’s what it was the first inning,” she said. “I’m just glad that they didn’t do any more damage than what they did on my misses.”
Other teams in the conference might have.
“I told the girls, ‘welcome to the Pac-12,”’ Candrea said. “I mean, that’s basically what it’s going to be like from here on out. I thought we could have done a little better job offensively. I thought we just did not make any real good adjustments today, but that happens. Oregon State is a good team and they played well. The one ball that went out, you know top of the fence, wind blowing out, there’s not much you can do there. I thought Denham did a good job today and I thought our depth came into play today.”
The Wildcats head to Florida for two weeks where they will face USF (x2), No. 22 UCF, Florida A&M, and No. 13 Florida State (x3). The Oregon State game was a good test leading up to it, but not the important takeaway from the weekend.
“We finally got a chance to play the game again and this weekend was really sweet with having some fans,” Candrea said. “It almost felt like normal playing the game. But I think at the end of the day, with all these kids have gone through, just being able to play is probably the most important thing. So we’re all very, very happy that we’re back on the field and doing what we love to do.”
Highlights and postgame interviews
Carlie Scupin singles to left and Giulia Koutsoyanopulos is thrown out at home, but the umps determined the catcher was blocking the plate.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 28, 2021
Arizona and Oregon State are tied 2-2 now. Wow. pic.twitter.com/3duvIWpQS6