Sharlize Palacios will be Arizona’s starting catcher when Dejah Mulipola moves on from the program after the season. For now, the two are terrorizing opposing pitchers together while moving the Wildcats closer to the Women’s College World Series.
Both backstops homered—Mulipola, twice—and drove in three runs as Arizona softball overpowered Arkansas 10-4 in the first game of the Fayetteville Super Regional on Friday. The Wildcats can punch their ticket to Oklahoma City with another win over the Razorbacks on Saturday at 2 p.m. PT.
“It was definitely a signature win for us tonight on the road,” head coach Mike Candrea said.
Arizona’s struggles away from home have been well-documented this season but they picked up right where they left off in last weekend’s Tucson Regional—by bashing the ball all over a sold-out Bogle Park.
The Wildcats finished with 12 hits, with Palacios, Mulipola, Janelle Meoño and Malia Martinez each tallying two apiece. Jessie Harper belted her 91st career homer in the sixth inning to provide a comfortable 9-2 cushion. The two-run shot moved her into third place on the NCAA all-time list, as well as one long ball shy of Katiyana Mauga for the Arizona record.
“One through nine, whoever we put out there, is great offensively and that showed tonight.” Mulipola said.
Mulipola went back-to-back with Harper for her second homer of the night. Her first set the tone for the explosive day of offense. The steely senior pulled a two-out, two-run homer to left to put Arizona ahead 2-0 just four batters into the game.
Mulipola came up with a runner on the second in the third inning and Arkansas opted to walk her that time. Palacios, who made Ole Miss pay with a grand slam in a similar situation last week, lined a single to left to score Meoño, the kind of timely hits that have often evaded Arizona on the road.
“I think this team understands the importance of just getting 60 feet and passing the bat,” Candrea said. “That’s kind of been our motto and tonight everything clicked.”
Palacios struck again in the fifth, launching a two-run homer deep to center to stretch the lead to 5-1. It was the final blow for SEC Pitcher of the Year Mary Haff, the latest victim of Palacios’ postseason heroics. The redshirt freshman has 10 hits, 13 RBI and three homers in her first four career postseason games.
“That’s why I have her behind Dejah,” Candrea said. “I know people are gonna sometimes throw around Harper, and if you’re gonna throw around Harper, you’re gonna face Dejah. If you want to throw around Dejah, you’re gonna face Palacios. And I think Sharlize really has great maturity for her age. She’s young, but she’s got a really high softball IQ and really good emotional stability. I have a lot of confidence in her when they do walk Dejah that she’s going to hit the ball hard somewhere. Tonight was a good example of that.”
The Razorbacks summoned No. 3 pitcher Jenna Bloom (they are likely saving No. 2 Autumn Storms for Saturday) and the onslaught continued. Martinez roped a two-run double in the right field gap in the fifth before Harper and Mulipola homered in the sixth.
“We had a good game plan coming in and I think they all had an idea of what they were looking to hit,” Candrea said. “And sometimes you can do that and not get that pitch, but tonight luckily we were right more than we were wrong and we were able to put good swings on it and square the ball up.”
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel said Arizona was the tougher team and that the Razorbacks looked like a shell of their usual selves. That includes Haff, who only gave up three runs in 17 innings in the Fayetteville Regional last weekend.
“I don’t think her rise(ball) was kicking in like it usually does, and everything that she has is effective off of that,” Deifel said. “I also think Arizona had a great game plan.”
Arkansas’ offense, on the other hand, was boom or bust against Hanah Bowen. The Arizona right-hander allowed four hits in a complete-game effort. Three were homers.
Bowen retired the first nine batters she faced until Hannah McEwen’s solo shot cut Arizona’s lead to 3-1 to begin the third. The next batter, Braxton Burnside, doubled to right center and waved her arms to fire up her teammates as she strode into second base.
After a meeting on the mound, Bowen sat down the next three batters to quiet the rally.
“For her to come back and close out that inning and get us back on offense so we can produce for her was a big deal, but it’s nothing that I don’t expect from her,” Mulipola said. “That’s the player that she is. She’s always competitive and she’s ready to throw the next punch.”
Aly Manzo went yard off Bowen to make it 7-2 in the fifth and Hannah Gammill prevented a run-ruling by trimming Arizona’s lead to 10-4 with a two-run shot in the sixth. Bowen responded by retiring the final five batters to seal the win.
She passionately pumped her fist after striking out Lennie Malkin for the final out, her eighth K and 120th pitch of the game.
“She was lights out,” Mulipola said. “Her pitches were moving, everything was hitting on all cylinders.”
Just like the offense. Arizona has scored 10 or more runs in three straight games, all against SEC opponents.
“It gives us a lot of confidence but you can’t get complacent,” Mulipola said. “We still have one more game. We still have a lot of softball left.”
Gotta love the emotion from Arizona and Hanah Bowen after sealing the win vs. Arkansas pic.twitter.com/nohI5skGol— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) May 29, 2021