For as much as Arizona loves playing at home, it’s not enough to have the games go a full seven innings.
The Wildcats used a 7-run bottom of the fourth to power a 9-1 win over Cal State Bakersfield in five innings on Wednesday afternoon at Rita Hillenbrand Stadium. It was their sixth mercy rule victory in as many games at Hillenbrand, where they hadn’t played since Feb. 12 thanks to back-to-back tournaments in Florida and Arkansas.
“It’s very nice to be back home,” UA coach Caitlin Lowe said. “Nice to play in front of our fans, on our field, and for the kids to sleep in their own beds.”
Arizona (11-5) went 5-5 on their road trip, going 2-3 at the Clearwater Invitational in Florida and then 3-2 against Arkansas and Drake in Fayetteville, picking up a pair of victories over top-10 opponents in the process. It didn’t hit particularly well, batting .253, and the lack of hits continued Wednesday with just four against the Roadrunners (3-16).
The Wildcats made up for that with a season-high eight walks as well as three hit batters. Four of those free passes came around to score.
“Our whole conversation yesterday was being able to utilize those in our favor, and just take walks when people are giving them to you,” Lowe said. “The game slows down a lot in the beginning because of that, but they really waited for their pitches and went after them. I was very happy with the amount of pitches we saw today.”
Two of Arizona’s hits were by freshman Olivia DiNardo, who made her first start behind the plate in order to get Izzy Pacho’s knees some extra time off. DiNardo singled in the first and again in the fourth, driving in a run with the bases loaded to put Arizona up 3-0 at the time.
“I talked to Coach Lowe in the dugout to figure out what pitch I want to hit and then I locked in and found my pitch,” DiNardo said.
Arizona blew the game open when Allie Skaggs, who had 24 home runs a year ago, finally got her first of 2023 via a grand slam.
“For her not to feel good and hit .300 is kind of crazy,” Lowe said. “And I think just keeping her approach and trusting her work ethic and it’s always gonna happen.”
Two more runs came in after Skaggs’ slam, on a throwing error and a wild pitch, putting the mercy rule into play. Arizona needed both, because Bakersfield’s Karissa Munsey led off the top of the fifth with a solo home run off the foul pole in left.
That was one of only two hits allowed by freshman Sydney Somerndike, who improved to 3-1 in her longest outing so far. She retired the first 10 batters she faced and struck out five overall, with roommate DiNardo on the receiving end of those punchouts.
“I think it was definitely exciting, my first complete game here,” she said. “Got to play with my roommate right here. Getting this battery going was an exciting thing to start.”
Arizona is back at it Friday when it faces Weber State and Texas A&M-Commerce in the Hillenbrand Invitational. The Wildcats will also play twice on Saturday, against Nebraska and Commerce, and Sunday against Cal State Northridge, in their final tune-ups before Pac-12 play begins March 10 at ASU.