Arizona went pitcher by committee and eventually got burned.
After being blanked by Mariah Lopez and Hanah Bowen through the first four innings, No. 2 UCLA exploded for seven runs off Alyssa Denham and Devyn Netz in the fifth to take Saturday’s series finale, 7-2.
It was the first time all season the Wildcats used more than three pitchers in a game. Usually, they stick to one or two. Head coach Mike Candrea said that was a predetermined decision.
“We have to try something to try to keep their hitters off balance and not expend our pitchers at this point, so that’s what happened,” he said.
No. 8 Arizona finishes the regular season 36-13 overall and 12-10 in the Pac-12. Losing three of four to UCLA drops them to 5-13 against ranked teams. The Wildcats entered the week in the hunt for top-8 seed in the NCAA Tournament but the series loss could drop them out. They will find out their fate Sunday at 6 p.m. MST on ESPN2.
“I think we know where we’re at right now,” Candrea said. “I think after the second game, I think they kind of got together and finally realized what the hell they need to do the play at this level. And today we had five really good innings.”
Arizona was leading 1-0 when things fell apart.
Denham, who threw 126 pitches Friday, replaced Bowen to begin the fifth and allowed a walk and single to the only two batters she faced. Netz took over in a tough spot and couldn’t preserve the lead, though her defense didn’t do her any favors.
UCLA No. 1 hitter Aaliyah Jordan bounced a grounder to shortstop and Jessie Harper tried to get the force out at second but her throw was too wide for Reyna Carranco. The ball skipped away and Anna Vines rounded third and scored the game-tying run.
After a foul out, the Wildcats intentionally walked Rachel Garcia to load the bases and it didn’t pay off. Netz walked in the go-ahead run, then Maya Brady smoked a two-run double to center and Kinsley Washington lifted a three-run homer to left to break the game wide open.
Candrea said he inserted Netz earlier than expected because Denham was dealing with a minor arm injury. Why use Denham at all if that was the case?
“The information I got was everything was good, but she did something to it,” Candrea said. “This morning when she got to the ballpark, the trainer said she was a little sore but she was ready to go and she wanted to pitch. So we decided to go ahead and roll them out two innings at a time. And I thought it was gonna be a really good plan, but unfortunately it backfired.”
Lopez, who made her first start since April 24, also closed the game out. Her 4.2 scoreless innings were a bright spot. She and Arizona’s other six seniors were commemorated after the game with flowers, a framed jersey and a tribute video.
The Bruins got five solid frames from their star senior, Garcia, before summoning Megan Faraimo to close it out. Pinch hitter Allie Skaggs blooped an RBI single into right field to cut the deficit to 7-2 in the sixth but the top of the order couldn’t keep the rally going.
Both of Arizona’s RBIs came from the No. 9 spot. Peanut Martinez plated the game’s first run in the second inning, chopping an infield single to the left side to score Giulia Koutsoyanopulos. She pinch ran for Carlie Scupin, who led off the frame by banging a double off the top of the left field wall.
That was after Arizona missed out on a golden opportunity in the first, stranding the bases loaded, three of the nine runners they left on base for the day. Coming through with runners in scoring position has been an issue all season.
“There are some bright spots and yeah it’s tough to lose a game like that, but at the end of the day we don’t have time to worry about it,” Candrea said. “We just need to regroup and find out what we’re doing next week, get prepared for that. And from here on out, as long as you got games, then you should be happy that you’re playing.”