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Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza returns as Arizona softball run-rules Utah to continue home dominance

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

It’s good to be home.

Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza looked healthy in her return from a knee injury, Jessie Harper hit another milestone homer and Arizona softball run-ruled Utah 12-1 in five innings on Friday as they continue whooping teams at Hillenbrand Stadium.

The Wildcats (28-8, 7-5) are 19-0 at home this season, with all 19 wins coming against unranked teams and nine coming via the run rule. Arizona tallied a season-high 15 hits on Friday, including five home runs and six base knocks with runners in scoring position.

Quite the difference from last weekend’s series loss at ASU where UA struggled to get the big hits.

“It’s the weirdest thing in the world and it shouldn’t really affect you, but obviously there’s a comfort zone that you have here,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said. “You see pitches every day in this ballpark with the background that it has. ... If you’re not relaxed, the game gets pretty tough. And I think obviously when we’re in Hillenbrand we are a little more relaxed than we are when we’re in other places.”

Arizona also got a boost from having one of their emotional leaders back in the lineup. Palomino-Cardoza started in center field and batted sixth in her first game since bruising her knee on a scary play at ASU last Friday.

The sixth-year senior made an immediate impact, charging in to make a diving catch in the first inning and lacing a single up the middle in her first at-bat.

“It felt great,” she said. “My trainer came to me on Thursday and asked if I felt OK and ready to go, and I jumped at the opportunity to get back on the field. I’m feeling good. Legs are feeling good. Just gonna keep getting stronger.”

Palomino-Cardoza’s single came right after Harper and Sharlize Palacios clubbed back-to-back solo homers to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead in the second inning.

It was Harper’s 87th long ball of her career, tying former UA catcher Stacie Chambers for fourth-most in NCAA history.

It also kickstarted a six-run frame. Janelle Meoño, Reyna Carranco and Palacios each had RBI singles and Peanut Martinez helped fuel the big inning with an eight-minute, 15-pitch at-bat. She worked the count back full after falling behind 0-2 and ripped a single through the middle to load the bases for Meoño.

Malia Martinez and Carlie Scupin continued the onslaught in the third inning with a pair of solo homers. The Wildcats tacked on four more runs in the fourth thanks to a two-run double by Harper and a two-run blast by Palacios, her second of the game and 12th of the season.

Palacios and Malia Martinez finished with three hits apiece. Meoño extended her hitting streak to 22 games despite having an infield single wiped out in the first inning because she stepped out of the batter’s box while slap-hitting.

“We did a lot of live [batting practice] this week, and it was probably tough on our pitchers, but it was really good for our hitters to really get their eyes geared up on game speed,” Candrea said. “Batting practice is batting practice and it sometimes doesn’t even look like what you’re going to see.”

The offense took the pressure off Hanah Bowen, who made her first career series-opening start. The junior right-hander scattered three hits in four scoreless innings, striking out three Utes and walking none to lower her ERA to a team-best 1.33.

Freshman Devyn Netz pitched the fifth inning and surrendered a solo homer.

“I had a good mix out there,” said Bowen, who downplayed the importance of being a Friday night starter. “I guess it’s just setting the tone of the whole weekend, so it’s coming out there and attacking first.”

Candrea said Alyssa Denham will be in the circle for the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, which begins at 2 p.m. PT.

The Wildcats will be trying to an extend a 25-game home winning streak that dates back to last season. The Utes (17-20, 2-11) will be trying to remove themselves from the Pac-12 cellar.

“I was very pleased with the way we swung the bats tonight, that makes the game a little bit easier, so everyone’s happy,” Candrea said. “Just have to make sure that we come out and do the same thing tomorrow.”

Postgame interviews

Mike Candrea

Mike Candrea post Utah

Hear what Mike Candrea said after Arizona Softball's 12-1 win over Utah

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, April 23, 2021

Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza

Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza post Utah

In her return from a knee injury, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza had a hit and a diving catch in Arizona's 12-1 win over Utah

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, April 23, 2021

Hanah Bowen

Hanah Bowen post Utah

Hanah Bowen got the start and threw four scoreless innings in Arizona Softball's 12-1 win over Utah

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, April 23, 2021