Arizona softball had 16 run-rule wins at Hillenbrand Stadium in the regular season. Saturday’s game vs. Ole Miss had the makings of another but, as it turns out, the postseason is a whole different beast.
The Rebels nearly erased an eight-run deficit before the Wildcats pulled away for a 12-6 win to put them in Sunday’s Tucson Regional final. A two-run homer by Dejah Mulipola, who also hit a three-run shot in the first inning, fueled a four-run sixth that finally ended the Rebels’ comeback bid.
“In postseason anything can happen,” she said. “Teams can come back from 8-0 or 12-0, it doesn’t matter. ... You have to keep your foot on the gas and just keep going.”
Arizona will rematch Ole Miss on Sunday, needing one more win to advance to Super Regionals.
The Wildcats looked like they were going to cruise into the Regional Final after Sharlize Palacios belted a grand slam to center to give them an 8-0 lead in the second inning. The Rebels had other ideas, answering with a two-run homer in the third and a three-run shot in the fourth.
In between, they added a controversial run with the short game. Tate Whitley dropped down a bunt and an errant throw by UA third baseman Malia Martinez smacked Tate in the back as she bolted down the first base line. The ball trickled away, allowing a runner to score from second.
UA head coach Mike Candrea argued that Whitley was in fair territory when Martinez’s throw struck her, but the umpires huddled and stuck with the call on the field.
Instead of the inning being over, Autumn Gillespie lined a three-run homer to left, cutting the deficit to 8-6 and ending Alyssa Denham’s day early. The senior allowed seven hits and two walks in 3.2 innings of work.
“I think they were picking her pitches,” Candrea said. “And it’s kind of hard to throw pitches when someone knows what’s coming. That’s something that we are aware of and need to fix.”
Fortunately, Mariah Lopez and Hanah Bowen were effective in relief, combining for 3.1 scoreless innings. Bowen relieved Lopez to begin the sixth and picked up the save a day after tossing a one-hit shutout vs. UMBC.
“She’s been our hot hand and and has proven that she can come in and put out fires,” Candrea said. “My only concern is Mariah was a riseball pitcher with the wind blowing out.”
The Rebels didn’t go down quietly. A single and walk off put the tying runs on to lead off the inning for the dangerous Gillespie. After a visit from pitching coach Taryne Mowatt, Bowen fanned Gillespie with a riseball, got Abbey Latham to pop into a fielder’s choice and Sydney Gutierrez to bounce a weak grounder to second to escape the jam.
“She was very confident,” Mulipola said. “She was comfortable in the circle, she was throwing her pitches and allowing those batters the Ole Miss batters to chase her stuff.”
Bowen’s big outs created momentum heading into the home half of the inning. Peanut Martinez and Janelle Meoño singled, Reyna Carranco moved them over with a fly ball to deep left and Jessie Harper drove in Martinez with a sac fly to right.
Mulipola unloaded a two-run bomb into the left field bleachers and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza capped the scoring with a double to the same part of the park.
Fittingly, it was the seniors who put the game on ice.
“They didn’t press the panic button,” Candrea said. “They were talking to everyone, saying, ‘hey, we just need to settle down and go out and have some competitive at bats.’ It’s great to have that leadership.”
It paid off early too. Mulipola’s first homer, a three-run shot, gave Arizona a 3-0 lead in the first inning after Denham stranded runners on the corners in the road half of the frame.
For the second straight day, Arizona reaped the benefits of some defensive miscues. Before Palacios uncorked a grand slam in the second, a sharp grounder by Carranco ate up the Ole Miss shortstop to extend the inning and plate Peanut Martinez from second.
Harper then hit a towering popup over the center of the diamond for what should have been the third out. But the Rebels couldn’t corral it and turned it into a Texas League double.
Ole Miss intentionally walked Mulipola to load the bases and Palacios made them pay, digging a 3-2 pitch out and sending it well beyond the batter’s eye in center.
The redshirt freshman has six hits and eight RBI in her first two career postseason games. She lives for those pressure-packed moments.
“I was like, ‘They want me? I’m going to show them what I have,” Palacios said. “So I went up there and I just wanted to focus on the pitches that I wanted. I kept fouling off pitches just looking for mine that I wanted to hunt and I finally got it. Everyone was telling me that it was really low to the floor, I almost had a knee down. I didn’t even know. I was just going to hit it and my strength was able to take it out.”
- Former UA pitchers Gina Snyder and Danielle O’Toole were among the alumni in attendance. O’Toole was also here in April as a member of Team Mexico when she pitched against the Wildcats. I caught up with her to discuss returning to Rita, preparing for the Olympics, and lots more. That Q&A is here. Snyder spent this season as a graduate assistant at Jacksonville University.