Every fall, Arizona softball starts its fall ball exhibition season knowing what the goals are. Getting to the postseason is fantastic, but the Wildcats have done that for 35 straight years. Just getting into regionals isn’t enough for a program like Arizona. Playing in big games and getting to the Women’s College World Series are the real goals.
Arizona is one step closer to the WCWS because of yet another outstanding performance in the circle. This time it was by sophomore Devyn Netz, who threw a two-hit complete-game shutout for the Wildcats.
The 2022 Wildcats needed just one victory in two games to take the next step toward Oklahoma City. They advanced to the super regionals by sweeping the Columbia regional, defeating Missouri 1-0 in the first game of the regional championship. The Tigers needed to defeat Arizona twice on Sunday to keep the Wildcats from advancing.
The difficulties of the season made it all the sweeter for Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe.
“Just so very proud of this team, this group of women,” Lowe said. “I was thinking this morning, I’m like, ‘Man, I just feel like this year has been so hard, and it has built this up for you guys.’ And we’ve been tested like we’ve never been tested before this year, and they let it make them stronger and I think it really showed today. So proud of Devyn and the way she competed in the circle.”
Pitching has been a concern for Arizona all season. For much of the year, the Wildcats struggled to piece things together in the circle.
In Missouri, they didn’t need to piece anything together. Arizona got three stellar performances in the circle over the weekend. After two straight days of top-notch pitching by fifth-year senior Hanah Bowen, Netz stepped up on Sunday.
In addition to the two hits, Netz allowed three walks, but none of Missouri’s hitters were able to really bother her. She allowed just one baserunner to reach scoring position all game. That came in the bottom of the fourth with two outs.
Netz struck out three and got some nice plays behind her from her defense. As is often the case, one of the standouts came from Izzy Pacho at third base. Pacho ran down a ball destined to go foul over the fence and snagged it for the first out of the fifth inning.
“I think it was our best showing all year,” Lowe said. “And I think we’ve talked as a team that we’ve been trying to put those full-package games together, the ones where we pitch our heart out in the circle, we play great defense, and then we come through with a big hit. And I thought we did that yesterday. And today, it was huge. I mean, we had the one run and (Netz) just locked it down for us against some big hitters, and just props to them because they had a hell of a season. And I just thought that Devyn went right at them today and came out on top.”
Missouri’s Jordan Weber had another strong performance in the circle for the Tigers after losing in her first outing against the Wildcats. She gave up four hits and two walks. For most of the game, she was inducing the Wildcats to get under the ball and pop it up.
Weber wasn’t able to get Sharlize Palacios to do that in the top of the fifth. Palacios got all of one to lead off the inning. It was the only run support the Wildcats would give to Netz, but it was all that she needed.
“It was weird because all those moments that I can look back at in my softball career, there’s always kind of silence and it’s very quiet and it’s kind of slowing down the moment,” Palacios said. “And I was actually able to hear my dad. He was like, ‘You’ve got this, Sharlize!’ So then I took a deep breath. I was like, ‘I can hit this! I can hit this!’ And then I just saw a change. It was down and I felt good, so I just went for it.”
The Wildcats all went for it this weekend, and their season will continue as a result. Their next opponent is the winner of the Tallahassee regional, which was assumed to be second-seeded Florida State. Instead, Arizona will likely head to Starkville, Miss to face Mississippi State after the Bulldogs upset last year’s runners-up.
UPDATE: There is a bid process for the super regionals after the elimination of Florida State. Arizona could host the super regional round.