Arizona softball has played 24 home games, all against unranked teams. Sunday’s typified how most of them have gone.
The Wildcats used a nine-run second inning to run-rule Cal 11-1 to complete a two-game sweep. That makes Arizona 24-0 at Hillenbrand Stadium this season with 15 mercy-rule wins.
The Wildcats (33-8, 11-5 Pac-12) have now won six straight after sweeping Utah and Cal, but things will get much more difficult from here as a road series at No. 8 Oregon and a home series vs. No. 2 UCLA round out their regular-season schedule.
“We really started to get some momentum back and start to feel more fluid in the lineup and just get our groove going,” said second baseman Reyna Carranco. “I think it’s super important to find our mark before these important series coming up.”
Carranco got Arizona on the board just two batters into the home half of the first. After Janelle Meoño legged out an infield single to extend her hitting streak to 27 games, Carranco poked a homer to left, her first long ball of the season.
That was a blip compared to the second inning. Meoño, Carranco and Carlie Scupin had RBI singles, Meoño and Dejah Mulipola added RBI doubles and Jessie Harper and Sharlize Palacios clubbed back-to-back homers.
Harper’s two-run blast, which landed in the top row of the left-field bleachers, was the 88th of her career, giving her sole possession of fourth place on the NCAA all-time list. She passed former UA catcher Stacie Chambers and needs seven more to tie Lauren Chamberlain’s all-time record (95).
“In the past I’ve seen [Chambers] at games, I actually ran into her at our hotel once and I was able to meet her and she’s so supportive,” Harper said. “Records are meant to be broken, but at the end of the day we’re just playing for our team, we’re playing to have fun and we’re playing to win. So if a home run helps your team win, that’s all that you’re looking for.”
As usual, Harper enjoyed talking about her teammates more. Like Meoño, who was the star of the series. The speedy slapper went 3 for 3 in both games, raising her average to a Pac-12-best .482. On Sunday, she had two infield singles and, most impressively, a sharp double into the left-field gap.
“There’s a couple things that go her way,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “Number one, she’s got a great approach, a great demeanor, in the batter’s box. Emotional stability, never gets too high never gets too low. And she’s got great hand-eye coordination. She can just about do anything she wants with the bat.”
While the series was a laugher on the scoreboard, Cal grinded at the plate. After forcing Hanah Bowen to throw 115 pitches in Saturday’s 9-0 win, Alyssa Denham threw 79 in four innings of work Sunday, allowing three hits, a walk and a hit by pitch.
The Bears (16-14, 3-8) just failed to come through with the big hit, leaving five runners on base Sunday after stranding eight Saturday.
Mariah Lopez, who’s now behind Bowen and Denham in the pitching pecking order, entered in the fifth inning and allowed the lone run of the series. She walked the leadoff hitter, who stole second base. A groundout moved her to third and a sac fly to deep left brought her home.
“I think we accomplished what we needed to and that’s two victories,” Candrea said. “I liked the offense. We came out and scored some runs and overall I thought Denham looked better today. And we wanted to get Mariah some work and I liked the way she finished. It was a good weekend.”
Fisch throws first pitch
New Arizona football coach Jedd Fisch threw the ceremonial first pitch, a soft underhand toss that was high of the strike zone.
“Very unathletic,” Candrea joked. “He’s got some work to do...maybe some legwork to get a little more drive. He tries to do everything with his upper body. But he’s coachable, so he’s got a very bright future.”
Mike Candrea on @CoachJeddFisch's first pitch: "Very unathletic. He's got some work to do...maybe some legwork to get a little more drive. He tries to do everything with his upper body. But he's coachable, so he's got a very bright future." https://t.co/KVWByGSw84 pic.twitter.com/EMLyLx3emG— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) May 2, 2021