Arizona has to outslug opponents because it’s not going to win a pitchers’ duel against an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. That was the conventional wisdom about this year’s Wildcat team as they headed into the postseason.
In their win against Illinois, that did seem like the wise assessment of the Wildcats. When it came time to face regional hosts Missouri, Arizona and pitcher Hanah Bowen proved that wisdom was faulty as they defeated the Tigers 2-0.
Bowen threw her second straight complete game in two days. The fifth-year senior allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out six.
“I think she came out with a certain fire yesterday and really came through in clutch situations,” Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe said about her decision to start Bowen again. “And I thought she matched up well with Missouri, and I just always trust the ball in her hands.”
The only runs of the game came off the bat of Arizona sophomore Carlie Scupin in the fifth inning.
Jordan Weber, the starting pitcher for the Tigers, was cruising. She had allowed four baserunners to reach scoring position over the first four innings, but Arizona couldn’t knock them in.
At the beginning of the fifth inning, Weber struck out Sharlize Palacios and Allie Skaggs. With two of Arizona’s primary offensive weapons out of the way and two outs, Weber hit Izzy Pacho with a pitch, giving the Wildcats a baserunner.
Scupin worked the count full. Then, she showed once again that Arizona’s power doesn’t stop with the cleanup hitter. She launched the ball over the fence for her 18th home run of the season. The two-RBI homer gave the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish.
There were still some nervous moments left for Arizona, though. In the top of the sixth, Missouri put two in scoring position with just one out. A popup and a fly to centerfield put an end to the threat.
Bowen finished the game off with little fanfare. Two strikeouts and a grounder back to the circle improved the Wildcats’ record to 21-5 in regional games played outside of Tucson.
The low-scoring victory was a rarity for the Wildcats. Coming into the game against the Tigers, Arizona had scored five or fewer runs 25 times. The team lost 18 of those games and the only major-conference opponent among its wins was California.
Now, Missouri joins the Golden Bears.
“There’s no time like the present,” Lowe said with a laugh. “I think that’s what we’ve been working toward, those types of games and great defense, great pitching, and timely hitting. Sorry, I sound exactly like Coach (Mike) Candrea. It’s so very true. It was the first time we kind of put everything together as one and came through in that clutch moment, and I think that’s what’s so good about it.”
In addition to Bowen’s performance and Scupin’s home run, the Wildcats also produced drama with the officiating crew. In the bottom of the first, Janelle Meoño was called out of the box by the second-base umpire, adding a strike to her count. She eventually struck out.
In the next inning, designated player Blaise Biringer appeared to hit a single. It would have put two on with no outs for the Wildcats. This time it was the home umpire who called her out of the box. The broadcast replays did not appear to show her foot ever touching the ground. She eventually struck out and Arizona’s leadoff runner never advanced.
“I thought they were very mature and composed in a tough situation because they didn’t feel like they were out of the box,” Lowe said. “But they just stayed mentally tough and kept working on their game and pitches that they could hit, that they could still get to while being in the box. So I was very impressed with their composure and their maturity in those moments.”
The Arizona coaching staff was not pleased. Assistant coach Lauren Lappin continued talking to the third-base umpire. He was not pleased by the conversation. Lappin was ejected, giving Lowe her first third-base coaching stint of the season.
“I think she got a little heated—and no big deal,” Lowe said. “I think that fired us up just a little bit...[M]e stepping out of the dugout away from my hitting charts is just fine, too. But I thought...we didn’t get a lot of breaks today and the team stay composed and fought through every single thing and handled it so well.”
Lappin got some early rest. Now, the Wildcats get to go back to their hotel rooms and join her in that endeavor.
Illinois, Missouri State, and fifteenth-seeded Missouri will fight it out for the right to face Arizona in the regional final tomorrow. Whoever advances from the later games must defeat the Wildcats twice on Sunday to win the regional and advance to face the winner of the Tallahassee, Fla regional.
That rest should do Bowen some good. While Lowe would not say who she planned to pitch in what they hope is the only game on Sunday, Bowen has looked like walking is causing her pain on occasions. She admitted that her hip is causing her some discomfort.
“I think on certain pitches...my body gets a little out-of-whack,” Bowen said. “But other than that, I think (it’s) mind over matter.”
History may have had something to do with Arizona getting a berth in this year’s postseason despite finishing tied for last in the Pac-12. That history says that they have a very strong chance of ending up in the super regionals.
The Wildcats are 33-3 in regional finals. They have never failed to advance when entering the regional finals without a loss.