Mike Candrea said Wednesday that one crack of Jessie Harper’s bat could be all it takes to awake Arizona from its slumber. How about two?
The senior shortstop homered twice and drove in five runs to lead the Wildcats to a 7-0 win in Friday’s series opener against Oregon State. The victory snapped Arizona’s three-game losing streak and the long balls ignited an offense that had only scored six runs over its last five games.
“Every game has a defining moment,” Candrea said. “Tonight it was Harper, and hopefully tomorrow night it’ll be Harper and someone else. Offense is [contagious] and I think we’re getting very close to getting back on track.”
Alyssa Denham picked up the win by tossing a 10-hit—yes, 10-hit—shutout. The senior allowed nine singles and a double but escaped several jams. None bigger than in the first inning when a pop out stranded two runners in scoring position and ensured that Arizona (15-5, 1-2) would not have to play from behind in its first home game since Feb. 28.
“It was a good ballgame,” Candrea said. “I mean, we needed a victory, we needed to put some things together and I thought Denham did a good job of getting out of some jams and then we got some key hits—and that’s been the one thing we’ve been missing lately.”
Harper’s homers—the 81st and 82nd of her career—snapped an 0-for-11 streak and moved her into a tie for 10th in NCAA history. She broke the game open with a three-run moonshot in the third after Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza and Dejah Mulipola drew a pair of walks, pulling an inside pitch to left and letting a howling wind carry it deep into the bleachers.
It was the kind of pass-the-bat moment Candrea has been waiting for.
“That’s what we live by, just passing the bat to the next person and making sure that we can trust each other,” Harper said. “It’s the best when we’re all working together.”
Harper went yard again in the fifth, a two-run shot down the left-field line. They were her first homers in six games. When asked what, if any, adjustments she made leading up to Friday’s game, she said “it’s trusting the process.”
“It’s not always easy but it’s a grind,” she said. “You just have to trust your teammates and keep working.”
The Wildcats also benefitted from the kind of breaks they weren’t getting during their losing streak. They grabbed the lead in the second inning when Sharlize Palacios singled and scored after two passed balls.
In the fifth, Janelle Meoño collected her second single of the night and promptly stole second. Palomino-Cardoza plopped a single into center, her first hit in six games, to bring her home.
“That’s all you need,” Candrea said. “Whether it’s a bunt or cheap hit or any kind of success, I think it definitely helps your mind.”
It certainly made Denham’s life easier. Pitching with a sizable lead for most of the night, she was content with pounding the zone and pitching to contact. She struck out four and only walked one. It was her first scoreless start since Feb. 25.
“The key for me is keeping the ball low and making them single me to death rather than getting extra-base hits,” she said. “I loved having our offense back.”
Denham hurled 102 pitches and found herself in one last jam in the seventh when a walk and single put runners on the corners with two outs. Juiced by the 348 fans spread around Hillenbrand Stadium, she got a groundout to complete the shutout.
“Both my parents were here, so it was great having them here and the fans,” Denham said. “I got nervous again, kinda like it was our first game or something. It was really a lot of fun.”