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Long ball leads Arizona softball past New Mexico State as Reyna Carranco returns

Sharlize Palacios
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Jessie Harper reached another milestone Friday by launching her 85th career home run in Arizona’s 11-5 win over New Mexico State, putting her in a tie for fifth in NCAA history with former Wildcats Leah Braatz and Laura Espinoza.

Harper said she was too busy celebrating her teammates’ success to notice it.

Sharlize Palacios homered twice, Carlie Scupin and Allie Skaggs went back-to-back in the fifth and Bella Dayton hit an inside-the-parker in the sixth, her first homer of the season.

Dejah Mulipola had an RBI single and RBI double—both were lasers—and Janelle Meoño extended her hitting streak to 14 games with her first four-hit game.

“I’m really enjoying the success that my teammates are having and I’m living through them,” Harper said, deflecting a question about her home run pursuit. “I don’t know how many times you guys have asked me that, but it’s all good. I’m just having fun playing my game.”

The victory extended Arizona’s winning streak to nine games, but it was in serious jeopardy in the fourth when Alyssa Denham surrendered a game-tying three-run homer as New Mexico State put an exclamation mark on a five-run inning.

That scare lasted only for a few minutes.

Scupin led off the bottom half of the frame by thudding a homer off the scoreboard in right field. Skaggs followed it up by drilling a ball off the batter’s eye in center.

The onslaught continued in the sixth when Dayton raced all the way home after lifting a high drive off the left-field wall. The left fielder collided into the fence while trying to make the catch and was slow to get up.

Harper deposited the historic homer into the left-field bleachers four batters later, driving in Mulipola who singled home Meoño earlier in the frame.

“The way our offense responded when the game got close was really, really good to see,” head coach Mike Candrea said.

Hanah Bowen shut the door by tossing three scoreless innings in relief. She got some help from her defense in the fifth when Harper made a tough backhanded play at shortstop and Meoño threw out Matalasi Faapito at second as she tried to stretch a single into a double.

That was the only hit the Aggies mustered off Bowen, whose ERA improved to a team-best 1.03.

“I wasn’t real pleased with our performance in the circle, but that happens,” Candrea said. “I thought Bo came in and did a great job,”

Denham had logged 12 straight scoreless innings entering the night but had trouble with her command Friday, throwing just 39 of her 69 pitches for strikes. She walked two batters in the fourth to fuel NMSU’s big inning.

It was obvious she wasn’t feeling like her usual self because she pitched in the bullpen after being removed from the game. Peanut Martinez grabbed a bat and helmet and pretended to be a live hitter.

Arizona’s defense wasn’t that sharp, either. NMSU scratched their first two runs on a rare passed ball and failed fielder’s choice.

“She was having a hard time making small adjustments tonight and that’s usually not her,” Candrea said. “She’s usually in pretty good control of that but it just happened. There’s not much you can say. I mean, the kid that hit the home run (Gabby Aragon), it’s her first of the year.”

Denham wasn’t the only one who had trouble with the Aggies. They homered four times in a 6-5 loss to Team Mexico earlier in the day. One came off former UA ace Taylor McQuillin and the other three were against another former Wildcat, Danielle O’Toole.

“They swing the bats with some authority and if you make a mistake, if they can get on time, they’re going to hurt you, and you saw that when they played Mexico today,” Candrea said. “So give a little bit of credit to them, but it wasn’t [Denham’s] best day, but she’ll respond the right way.”

Reyna returns

All-American second baseman Reyna Carranco made her first appearance since Feb. 21 on Friday, receiving a loud ovation from the 353 folks in attendance as she stepped in to pinch hit for Malia Martinez in the sixth inning.

Carranco smoked a line drive right at the shortstop, who snared it and doubled off Jasmine Perezchica at first. Still, Candrea was happy to see her in the batter’s box again.

“She looks good,” he said. “She’s a tough kid for what she’s gone through to come back.”

That Carranco squared up the second pitch she saw didn’t come as a surprise.

“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” Candrea said. “She’s a professional hitter. She really stays through the zone really, really well and doesn’t try to do too much and so I think watching her swing the bat this week, it was just encouraging that there wasn’t any tenderness. She responded very positively. She hit the ball around the ballpark and good defense. I think she’s right around the corner, ready to go.”

Harper said Carranco practiced fully this week for the first time since breaking her thumb and was “flawless” out there, almost like she never got injured in the first place.

“She’s just a true competitor and she’s really stays within herself and just goes out there and is like, ‘I’m gonna do it, I don’t really care,’” Harper said. “That’s just her personality, so when she finally got the opportunity today to come out here and really put all her hard work to the test, I was so proud. I loved that the fans were giving her a really great response, but I want her back on the field with me. I miss her for sure, but I’m so happy for her and I think she’s amazing because she didn’t even look like she was fazed at all.”

Candrea is hoping to get Carranco more at-bats this weekend, but made sure to note how Skaggs, her replacement these last several weeks, swung the bat Friday.

“She ran into one and she’s very capable of doing that,” Candrea said. “She’s got really good power, but Reyna is Reyna. She is someone that we need in our lineup and look forward to get her back.”

Up next

The Wildcats (23-5, 6-2) will face NMSU (18-17, 3-3) again Saturday at 3 p.m. PT before taking on McQuillin, O’Toole and Team Mexico at 6 p.m. PT.

Both games will be streamed on Arizona Live Stream-2.

Postgame interviews

Sharlize Palacios and Jessie Harper

Sharlize Palacios and Jessie Harper post NMSU

Hear what Sharlize Palacios (2 homers) and Jessie Harper (1 homer) said after Arizona Softball's 11-5 win over New Mexico State

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, April 9, 2021

Mike Candrea

Mike Candrea post New Mexico State

Hear what Mike Candrea said after Arizona Softball's 11-5 win over New Mexico State

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, April 9, 2021