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Arizona softball can’t maintain strong start against California

Arizona catcher Sharlize Palacios went 2-for-3 against Cal, but the Golden Bears defeated the Wildcats 7-1.
Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics

Through three innings, the Arizona Wildcats stranded five runners, including runners on second and third with no outs. California didn’t make that mistake as the Golden Bears defeated the visitors 7-1.

The Wildcats looked dangerous at the beginning. Sharlize Palacios started things off right in the top of the first inning, reaching base for the 19th straight game with a one-out single through the left side. Izzy Pacho kept her hot hitting going, pushing her batting average to .400 for a few innings with a two-out single. Arizona wasn’t able to score, but the at-bats were promising.

In the next inning, Carlie Scupin drew a lead-off walk. With Cal pitcher Sona Halajian having difficulty finding the zone and with three balls, Blaise Biringer hit into a double play on what looked like a ball well below the zone. It stalled a potentially promising inning.

In the next inning, Janelle Meoño and Palacios reached to lead things off. Both were in scoring position with no outs. Meoño tried to score on a Pacho fielder’s choice to third base. She was tagged out easily as Acacia Anders made a strong throw home. Arizona got nothing out of the inning.

At least Cal was having the same problems in the early going. The Golden Bears had a few long outs off Hanah Bowen, but the fifth-year senior was able to keep them from doing any damage for a while. Then came the bottom of the third.

Two singles to lead off Cal’s half of the inning put runners on the corners. Tatum Anzaldo came up third and put down the bunt. As Bowen and Scupin collided in front of home plate, Kennedy Thomas crossed it to break the scoring barrier in the Bears’ favor.

The pain didn’t stop there. Two batters later, Halajian stepped into the box and launched a three-run shot out of the park to help her own cause. Cal was up 4-0, and things started to unravel for Arizona.

The Bears added another run in the bottom of the fourth. In the bottom of the fifth, head coach Caitlin Lowe made the pitching change. Jessie Fontes, who had a great outing in her last start at New Mexico State, came in for Bowen. Fontes didn’t have any more success than Bowen this time, though.

The first batter to face Fontes knocked the ball out of the park to put Cal up 6-0. Halajian came up for the first time since her home run and walked on four pitches. Two batters later, another run scored and the Wildcats were in danger of having their six-game winning streak come to a halt via the run rule.

Fontes was able to prolong the game, stranding the winning run at second. Allie Skaggs made that run rule loss less likely to happen with her 20th home run, finally getting Arizona on the board in the top of the sixth.

The sophomore pitcher settled down in the bottom of the sixth, letting her defense work behind her and sitting the Bears down in order for the first time all night. The hole was too deep and Arizona’s bats were too quiet, though, as they also went down in order in the top of the seventh to end Cal’s three-game losing streak.

Bowen took the loss, dropping to 10-9 on the season. She gave up seven hits and five earned runs in four innings. She struck out three, walked none, and hit one batter. Fontes gave up three hits and two earned runs in two innings. She struck out one and walked one.

Arizona falls to 31-17 on the season and 6-13 in the Pac-12. Cal improved to 27-23-1 overall and 7-12 in conference play.

The two teams meet again on Saturday with the first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m. MST/PDT.