For the 25th time since the NCAA started sponsoring the event, the Arizona Wildcats are headed to the Women’s College World Series. In a year when the team finished tied for last in the Pac-12, a 5-0 run through the regional and super-regional rounds culminated in a 7-1 victory over Mississippi State to seal the deal.
“In the bullpen, I remember this was right after we finished against Stanford,” starting pitcher Devyn Netz said. “It kind of sucked that we came out flat, but (Taryne Mowatt-McKinney) was talking to us and she said, ‘You know, this is the best part of the season.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean? We just had a losing season in the Pac. It’s horrible.’ She said, ‘No, everyone has a clean slate.’ And I think that was the best way to put it is that everyone, every team, every player, every coach has a clean slate and I think that’s what really helped us.”
Arizona is undefeated in that new season.
The Wildcats used a solid outing by Netz and three double plays to keep the Bulldogs off the board for most of the game. A huge fourth inning by the Arizona bats was all the support Netz needed.
The Wildcats went into the bottom of the fourth trailing the Bulldogs 1-0. A few timely hits, a walk, and errors on the Mississippi State defense led to seven runs. Arizona never looked back.
Netz started the game a bit shaky. Offensive powerhouse Mia Davidson drew a one-out walk to give the Bulldogs a baserunner. A single put Davidson in scoring position with one out.
Arizona got the second out by a fraction of a second when a poor throw by shortstop Sophia Carroll was corralled by Izzy Pacho to get Davidson out at third. A review of the play confirmed the out.
What could have been a huge opening inning for Mississippi State ended with the next batter as Paige Cook grounded out to second base.
The Bulldogs broke through in the second inning after a fielding error by Paige Dimler in right field put a runner in scoring position to lead off the inning. An RBI single two batters later gave Mississippi State the 1-0 lead.
Arizona tried to punch back in the second inning. Allie Skaggs was mere inches from putting the Wildcats up with a two-run homer, but the third-base umpire ruled it foul. Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe and assistant coach Lauren Lappin both argued, but Lowe said it was not a reviewable call.
Despite the frustration on offense, the Wildcats kept plugging away on defense. They ended three straight innings with double plays to keep the game within striking distance.
“It’s honesty extremely hard because this game is so quick and we’re taught at a fast pace to move the ball quick, keep the ball moving around,” Netz said. “But to have three in one game is phenomenal. I’m so proud of my defense because they work so hard all year long.”
The phenomenal defense gave way to an offensive explosion in the bottom of the fourth. Pacho drew the one-out walk, then Carlie Scupin put the Wildcats up 2-1 with a long ball that was definitely fair.
It wasn’t the end, though. Dimler was hit by a pitch to give Arizona another baserunner, and Blaise Biringer placed a fly perfectly in no man's land in shallow left field. A throwing error trying to get Dimler at third allowed Sophia Carroll to load the bases on a fielder’s choice. Yet another walk pushed a third run across for the Wildcats.
Four more unearned runs for Arizona gave Netz some breathing room. The Wildcats had the 7-1 lead and needed nine outs to get to a WCWS that few thought they would reach.
Those nine outs came relatively easily. Netz gave up two walks and no hits over the final three innings. She ended the complete game with five hits and three walks, but only one earned run. She struck out two.
The coach and her players looked back on the hard times this season and credit them with getting to Oklahoma City.
“I think there was this one instance in the season where we were going through a losing streak and I think all of us had our one-on-one meetings with Cait,” Netz said. “Just trying to help fix what was going on. Just everything we were doing in practice seemed great and it looked phenomenal, but putting it all together in the game was so tough. And we all had our meetings with her. Each time, she told each one of us, ‘You guys need to talk to each other so you can look to each other. You guys need to build off of one another and encourage one another.’ And that was something that I think we really had to work on as a team and it really paid off. Even though we went through rock bottom—I’ll say that—but it’s so worth it now.”
Arizona will face the Oklahoma State Cowgirls on Thursday, June 2 for its opening game of the 2022 WCWS.