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NCAA Softball: Pac-12 matchup as Arizona and Oregon State try to stave off elimination

Hanah Bowen (7) — OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLA. — Softball vs. Oklahoma State in the 2022 NCAA Women’s College World Series at OGE Energy Field at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. June 2, 2022.
Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Pac-12 filled almost half the slots in this year’s Women’s College World Series, but things didn’t go well for the three teams from the Conference of Champions on opening day. While the only team seeded to advance to the WCWS was No. 5 UCLA, all three teams took the loss and were dropped to the losers’ bracket on day one. That set up a rematch between Arizona and Oregon State on day two.

Last season, both teams that advanced to the championship series lost on the first day. This season, things were made more difficult for teams that dropped into the elimination bracket immediately. In the past, those teams would have been off on day two while the winners’ bracket played to see who else would be sent to the elimination games. In 2022, the losers have to turn around and play again on day two.

That places the unseeded Wildcats and the unseeded Beavers up against elimination on just their second day of play. It’s a rematch of two teams that faced off in Corvallis in early April. The Beavers took two of three in that series, winning two close games before being run-ruled by Arizona on the final day of the series.

Neither team is the same as they were two months ago, though. Arizona was still struggling to blend its offense, defense, and pitching at the time. That has come together in the postseason. Even in their loss to Oklahoma State on day one of the WCWS, the Wildcats were able to get runners on base fairly regularly against a pitcher with a 0.83 WHIP. In the circle, Hanah Bowen was able to work out of jams before giving up the go-ahead home run in the sixth inning in the 4-2 loss.

The Beavers are facing a different issue. Fifth-year senior Mariah Mazon did not pitch in the opening game. Oregon State went with freshman Sarah Haendiges. The cause of Mazon’s absence is unknown with the Beavers’ leadership unwilling to say whether it was an illness, injury, or something off the field.

“The big elephant in the room,” said Beavers head coach Laura Berg. “No, I cannot say why she was not here. She’s just unavailable today. Hopefully, we’ll have her tomorrow. It’s just some unfortunate circumstances out of her control that she was not able to be here today.”

That leaves open the possibility that Arizona will face Mazon on Friday evening. It doesn’t make a great deal of difference, though. Both Mazon and Haendiges are in the top three in ERA in the Pac-12. Haendiges is second at 1.53 and Mazon is third with a 1.60 ERA.

In April, Arizona faced Haendiges twice and Mazon once. In the opening game against Haendiges, they got four hits. There were also several questionable errors called by the official scorekeeper in Corvallis throughout the weekend—six errors were charged to the Beavers’ defense in the three games—so the Wildcats had better luck against the Beavers’ pitchers than the official box score reveals.

The Oregon State offense relied heavily on sac flies to get their runs across in that game. The Beavers also had just four hits but were able to push four runs across in a 4-1 victory.

Game two against Mazon, the Wildcats got just one official hit. Sharlize Palacios put Arizona on the board with a solo home run. The Beavers scored three runs on seven hits.

The Wildcats finally broke out in the final game of the series when they faced Haendiges for the second time. While the scorer charged the Beavers’ defense with four errors, Arizona made good contact with the ball against the freshman. Despite the scoring, the Wildcats still had nine hits. They scored in four of the five innings of the run-rule shortened game and got the 9-1 victory.

Bowen got the win, giving up just three hits. That makes the pitching question in Oklahoma City a tricky one for Arizona.

Falling into the losers’ bracket and being forced to play on back-to-back days puts the Arizona coaches in a bind. Do they pitch Bowen on back-to-back days? She has been successful in the postseason and was effective against the Beavers in April despite going 1-1 over that weekend.

There are risks to putting Bowen in the circle for the second straight day, though. She has now pitched 28 innings in the postseason. With the nagging hip injury she’s been dealing with and her workload over the past three weeks, back-to-back days may be too much to ask. Does Devyn Netz get the ball on Friday to save the wear and tear on Bowen?

The questions will be answered beginning at 6:30 p.m. MST. The game is scheduled to air on ESPN2.