Even though Arizona fell short in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, Dejah Mulipola’s late-inning homer served as a springboard for what was to come next.
The senior catcher drove in four runs in the second game as the No. 8 Wildcats bounced back to beat No. 2 UCLA, 5-1, at Hillenbrand Stadium. UA will go for the four-game split on Saturday at 1 p.m. MST, likely needing a win to have a shot at a top-8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“Moving into the second game I think we were a little bit more confident, we trusted who we were, we were being ourselves,” Mulipola said.
UCLA (40-4, 18-2) started No. 3 pitcher Holly Azevedo and Arizona took full advantage of it. Mulipola clocked a two-out, two-run homer in the second inning to give the Wildcats (36-12, 12-8) their first lead of the series. It felt like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders after playing from behind in the first two games.
“It was just who was going to throw the first punch, who was going to get the momentum,” Mulipola said. “It’s like, ‘why don’t we throw the first punch and get things started?”
Trying to keep the game close, Rachel Garcia relieved Azevedo with a runner on in the fourth, but the Wildcats managed to tack on three runs against the UCLA ace.
The Bruins mishandled two bunts to load the bases, allowing Reyna Carranco to drive in a run with a fielder’s choice before Mulipola smacked another clutch two-out hit. She poked a two-run single to right field, giving the Wildcats a five-run cushion.
Two of the three runs were charged to Garcia, making Arizona the first team to plate multiple runs against the Olympian this season. Interestingly, it was her Team USA teammate who did the damage.
“We know each other, we’re really close friends off the field too, so it’s just like, ‘who’s gonna win this time?’” Mulipola said.
Garcia won the battle Thursday, throwing a two-hit shutout in a run-rule victory that didn’t sit well with the Wildcats.
Breaking through against Garcia on Friday is a confidence boost heading into Saturday’s finale when she’s likely to be in the circle again.
“Last night was definitely very emotional,” Mulipola said. “That’s not us.”
Alyssa Denham sure looked more like herself. After getting tagged for four homers in Thursday’s loss, she was effectively wild in Friday’s win. The senior issued eight walks and a hit by pitch but only surrendered two hits in six innings of work. Denham twice stranded the bases loaded.
In the fifth, she plunked Delanie Wisz to bring in UCLA’s lone run. The Bruins had a chance to cut deeper into the 5-1 deficit but Denham got two fly outs to escape the jam.
“I said last night that I was interested to see how she responded and that was what I expected,” Mulipola said. “She was a little feisty out there, threw her stuff, tested her abilities and had a little bit more confidence.”
Mike Candrea said Denham’s dropball, her bread and butter pitch, was the key to her turnaround.
“I think that really kind of narrows things down a little bit because she throws a drop and she can throw an off-speed off that and she was very effective,” he said. “Normally she keeps the ball in the ballpark. Last night, it was some curveballs that were hit hard.”
Freshman Devyn Netz made a rare relief appearance in the seventh after Denham walked the first two batters. Despite facing Garcia—arguably the best hitter in the country—right off the bat, Netz recorded three outs with four pitches to secure her second career save.
Garcia bounced the first pitch she saw into a 5-3 double play, then Netz induced another weak grounder to Peanut Martinez for the final out. Netz was fired up.
“Devyn’s a competitor,” Candrea said. “Sometimes being a freshman and not knowing anything is an advantage. I think one of the toughest parts is when you are in this league for so long and sometimes you create these pictures of these hitters and sometimes you give them way too much credit. And I think sometimes as a freshman you walk in there and you’re just throwing your pitches. What impressed me with her is she came in and threw strikes.”
So much so that Candrea hinted that Netz will get the start in Saturday’s finale. That’s a big spot for a freshman who’s only pitched 20 innings all season, but she seems ready for the challenge.
“There’s always gonna be a little bit of butterflies, but over the years I’ve learned to embrace those butterflies because that just means you care,” Netz said. “So I kind of just take it all in but do my job.”
Hear what Coach Candrea said after Arizona Softball's 5-1 win over No. 2 UCLAPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, May 14, 2021