Anything can happen in the postseason.
Arizona catcher Dejah Mulipola said it Saturday after the Wildcats almost blew an eight-run lead to Ole Miss. On Sunday, it was the Wildcats who dug themselves into a deep hole, only they were able to hit their way out.
Arizona scored three runs in the fourth and eight in the fifth to erase a six-run deficit in a 12-6 win over Ole Miss in the Tucson Regional final.
With the win, Arizona advances to their seventh straight Super Regional, where they will face No. 6 Arkansas in Fayetteville with a trip to the Women’s College World Series on the line.
“I’ve been around a lot of games and I told them that they showed more grit than anyone I’ve seen a long time,” said Arizona head coach Mike Candrea.
The offense rose to the occasion with a season-high 19 hits. Seven of them came in an explosive fifth inning that saw six different players drive in at least one run. Ole Miss made two pitching changes but nothing was stopping the Cardiac Cats.
“The whole day, the moral of the story was, ‘don’t give up, we have outs to give,’’ said senior Jessie Harper, who had three RBI hits including the go-ahead single. “It was such a special game, everyone contributed in their own special way, and we were really one strong united team. I think that was one of the best ways to end my career here at Rita.”
The bottom of the order spurred the big eight-run fifth inning. No. 8 hitter Malia Martinez reached on an error by the shortstop and pinch hitter Bella Dayton singled to left in the nine-spot. Then this happened:
- Janelle Meoño RBI double over the left fielder’s head. 6-4.
- Reyna Carranco RBI line-drive single to right. 6-5.
- Ole Miss bounces the throw from the outfield into the Arizona dugout. 6-6.
- Harper sharp grounder through left side. 7-6.
- Sharlize Palacios two-run double into the right center gap. 9-6.
- Carlie Scupin RBI single up the middle. 10-6.
- Bella Dayton double to shallow left. 11-6.
The drama was only starting.
Ole Miss, the designated home team, loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the fifth and all hell broke loose.
Ole Miss catcher Autumn Gillespie vehemently argued a called third strike and Abbey Latham, the next batter, was issued a strike for taking more than 10 seconds to step into the batter’s box.
The runner on third, Nyomi Jones, thought Latham was called out and made her way back to the dugout. Arizona argued that Jones, who bumped into an umpire on her way to the dugout, should have been out for leaving the field of play, and initially it was ruled that way. After a debate from Ole Miss coach Jamie Trachsel, the umpires put the runner back on third and continued the inning.
And, after all that commotion, Mariah Lopez fanned Latham to end the inning and preserve the 11-6 lead. Lopez and the full-capacity Hillenbrand Stadium crowd were fired up.
“I’ve never been in that situation, but it added drama to the game and amped me up a little more, so it was interesting,” Lopez said with a smile. “I think it really just shifted the momentum. Yes, it was a jam, but I think it was supposed to happen that way.”
Nothing seemed to phase Lopez, who went on to close the game out with two scoreless innings. She pitched the final six after Ole Miss scored four runs off Hanah Bowen in the first inning and threatened for more in the second.
Ole Miss led off with two singles but Lopez extinguished the threat with some help from Meoño, the human highlight reel.
The UA left fielder leaped and stretched to snag a line drive that was destined for the left field corner. The snowcone grab saved (at least) two runs and ended the inning after Lopez had retired the No. 3 and 4 hitters.
“She’s an absolute star,” Martinez said of Meoño.
So was Lopez, who held Ole Miss scoreless over the final four frames.
“Like I told her tonight, ‘you’ve earned your scholarship,”’ Candrea said. “She really competed well. I saw a different look on her face tonight, so that’s kind of nice to have going into Super Regionals.”
The two runs Ole Miss did plate against Lopez, in the fourth inning, came with some controversy. After Jessica Puk laced a single through the left side, she advanced to second on a fielder’s choice when Carranco couldn’t corral Martinez’s throw from third.
Candrea argued that Carranco lost the ball on the transfer but the ruling on the field was upheld. Things got more heated when No. 8 hitter Mikayla Allee leaned into a pitch to load the bases. Candrea contested that too but, again, to no avail. Tate Whitley then singled to left to drive in two runs to extend the lead to 6-0.
The crowd was irate but Arizona turned that anger into offense. Martinez belted a two-run homer over the batter’s eye in the fourth for Arizona’s first runs. Harper then blooped an RBI single to right to cut the Ole Miss lead to 6-3 heading to the home half of the fourth.
Nine unanswered runs later, Arizona punched its ticket to Supers.
“It was unbelievable,” Martinez said. “Coach just said he was gonna make us all get emotional, but he was tearing up and talking about how that was one of the best games I’ve ever seen on this field. And just to come back from six runs and to come back in that sort of way, I’m so incredibly proud. It just shows the effort that we gave and honestly I can’t think of a better way to finish it off here.”
The final out was a line drive to Harper at shortstop. She gloved it and held the ball tight until she could give it to Candrea as they walked off the field at Hillenbrand Stadium for the last time.
“It was a great ending, to be able to hand him the ball and give him a big ole hug and tell him I love him because that man has really built me into the person and player I am today,” Harper said. “I’m so thankful for him and thankful for my time here at U of A, and we’re not done yet. Here we come Arkansas.”