It started so well.
Alyssa Denham retired UCLA’s leadoff hitter with one pitch, then got the No. 2 hitter to bounce a weak grounder to third. Two outs on five pitches. Hillenbrand Stadium was rocking.
The Bruins silenced the UA faithful in a hurry.
No. 2 UCLA blasted back-to-back-to-back homers and never stopped banging the ball around the ballpark en route to an 8-0 win over No. 8 Arizona in five innings.
Thursday’s loss snaps UA’s 30-game home winning streak. It’s also their first run-rule defeat, and first time being shut out, at home since 2015.
UCLA was the first ranked team to visit Tucson this season and the Wildcats simply weren’t up for the challenge.
“It just spiraled out of control after the (first) two outs and that’s what happens against good hitting teams,” said UA catcher Dejah Mulipola.
UCLA was fueled by five long balls and a two-hit shutout by Rachel Garcia, who was also one of four Bruins to homer. UCLA had 12 hits. Even their outs were loud.
“We just got manhandled,” said UA head coach Mike Candrea. “They’re a good hitting team and we made them look even better tonight, so we gotta regroup.”
It was Garcia who began the first-inning home-run barrage, pulling a center-cut 0-2 pitch deep into the left-field bleachers for the game’s first run. Delanie Wisz snuck a homer over the left-field wall and Maya Brady bashed one off the batter’s eye in center.
The next three Bruins reached base too but Denham escaped a bases-loaded jam to preserve the three-run deficit. Aaliyah Jordan didn’t let her find her footing for long, homering to lead off the second inning, Denham’s last batter of the night.
“I just think she was getting the ball up in the zone,” Candrea said. “They definitely are a good off-speed hitting team. I think that was kind of their plan coming in, but it was really not just the speed, it was just that she was elevating a lot of things. And when you’re facing a team like this and elevate the ball, it’s hard to keep the ball in the ballpark.”
Ironically, limiting home runs has been one of Denham’s strengths this season. She had only allowed five all season before serving up four to UCLA.
Heck, Denham was given the start because Candrea liked the way her dropball looked at Oregon. Hanah Bowen had been Arizona’s series-opening starter the last few weeks.
“We thought that if she was on her game that she could compete,” Candrea said of Denham. “Obviously it didn’t work out.”
Mariah Lopez couldn’t stop the bleeding, either. The senior surrendered four runs on seven hits in three innings of work, her first appearance since May 3.
Her line would have been even worse had Janelle Meoño not robbed a homer in the third inning. It would have been a three-run shot. Instead, it was a sac fly that pushed UCLA’s lead to 6-0.
Jordan added an RBI double to make it 7-0 and Brady, in the next inning, launched a homer off the Gittings Building in right-center to put an exclamation mark on the victory.
Freshman Devyn Netz tossed a scoreless fifth, the only inning the Bruins didn’t increase their lead.
“Just a poor performance in the circle,” Candrea said. “We just absolutely were behind the 8-ball from the first inning on.”
That’s not a winning formula against Garcia, who hasn’t allowed more than one run in an outing all season. The Wildcats only mustered a pair of singles off her, but Candrea wasn’t displeased with his team’s at-bats.
“The balls we squared up were right at people and we just couldn’t make things happen,” he said.
Arizona only struck out twice, tying Garcia’s season-low in a start. The downside is she only threw 81 pitches, keeping her fresh for the rest of the series. Meoño pointed out how rare it was that Garcia only went through Arizona’s order twice.
“She can throw everything, but we can hit it,” Meoño said. “Just wait.”
The four-game series will continue Friday with a doubleheader that begins at 4:30 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Network. Arizona is likely to roll with Bowen (8-2, 1.65 ERA) in Game 1 while UCLA is likely to summon sophomore Megan Faraimo (16-3, 1.10).
The Wildcats (35-11, 12-8 Pac-12) probably need to win at least two of the next three games to have a chance to earn a top-8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“This team will come back,” Candrea said. “I mean, they’ve shown that throughout the year.”
Postgame analysis & interviews
Troy Hutchison and Ryan Kelapire
Our Troy Hutchison and AZ Desert Swarm’s Ryan Kelapire recapped Arizona Softball’s 8-0 loss to UCLAPosted by All Sports Tucson on Thursday, May 13, 2021