The story goes that Arizona softball hitters have a lot of home runs because of the dry desert air in Tucson. On a rainy evening in Rita Hillenbrand Stadium, the No. 17 Wildcats proved they didn’t need it to be hot and dry to knock the cover off the ball.
UA hit four home runs in a 10-0 run-rule victory over New Mexico State to start the evening. In the nightcap, they maneuvered around a rain delay to get the 9-1 win, also in five innings and with a big home run. The two wins improved the Wildcats’ record to 19-7 on the season.
The first game came to a crushing halt when Devyn Netz hit a three-run pinch-hit home run that bounced off the roof of the William G. Hillenbrand Clubhouse behind Candrea’s Corner. It appeared to bounce back towards the tennis courts beyond the stadium.
We have no idea where this ball landed. @DevynNetz pic.twitter.com/MjVRERAwnV— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) March 16, 2023
“Devyn’s never cold,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe. “Her personality is just never cold. She’s always chomping at the bit to get into the game, and I just thought, matchup wise, it looked good. And I like her with runners on base.”
The final blow by Netz added to one home run hit earlier in the game by Allie Skaggs and two by Paige Dimler for a powerful day at the plate by the Wildcats.
Skaggs hit 24 home runs last season but went until Mar. 1 without hitting one this season. She now has six. Dimler increased her season home run total to three with the two in the opening game.
— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) March 15, 2023
Paige blasts her second homer of the season off the batter's eye! pic.twitter.com/kiE3Exh6Fj
The home run in the opening game wasn’t all of the story for either player. Skaggs went 3 for 5 in the doubleheader with six RBIs and two doubles. Dimler went 2 for 3 and was hit by a pitch. She had three RBIs and scored three runs.
The home runs were what Dimler was waiting for, though.
“Finally!” she said.
Work in the cages paid off for Dimler.
“I’ve been working on...changing in my swing a little bit just to kind of try to find a little bit more consistency,” Dimler said. “So, working in the cage all week and making sure that I can cover the outside part of the plate confidently and in my count, especially. So, I was looking for something elevated on the outer half. So, when I got it, I knew that was my pitch.”
The decision-making was what most impressed her coach.
“We talked a lot after ASU about just approach,” Lowe said. “Pitch selection is a big thing for her. You know, being on time and hunting good pitches. She hits all strikes well. It’s just a matter of getting in her counts. And I was most proud that she went to three balls, two strikes three times today, and that to me is saying a lot. She wasn’t hitting the first two pitches in the count.”
Sydney Somerndike had a strong start in the circle in the first game. She threw four innings, allowing two hits and striking out a career-high six. Of the 67 pitches she threw, 51 went for strikes.
14 batters 6 strikeouts— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) March 16, 2023
Career high for @sydsomerndike through four innings of work! pic.twitter.com/hafCn83q1X
“I loved how she attacked the zone,” Lowe said of Somerndike. “Some people got on her just a little bit and she figured out a way to beat them, and I think that’s our game. There’s good hitters everywhere and just when you feel like they’re getting on you just a little bit, being able to bring another tool out of your belt. And I thought she did a great job. Kept her composure very well, tested her defense, all the things that we wanted to do.”
Ali Blanchard relieved Somerndike for the final inning of the early game before starting the late one. In the early game, she sent eight of her 11 pitches in for strikes. She struck out one and didn’t allow a hit in her inning of work. In the second game, Blanchard went for four innings, giving up one unearned run on two hits, two walks, and one error while striking out two.
“Ali Blanchard not only sat the game break, but then the rain delay and that’s a big deal to come in and stay sharp and be ready for those moments,” Lowe said.
Breezy Hardy came in to relieve Blanchard, pitching the final inning. She gave up no runs on no hits and no walks. She struck out one.
“I see the maturity when she steps on the mound,” Lowe said. “She’s done it before and she’s been the ace of a staff for a very long time. So, I think she just comes in with a lot of composure, knows what she wants to do. And Taryne [Mowatt-McKinney] and her have a good game plan. So, then it’s just about execution.”
Hardy has given up just five hits in 7.2 IP this season. She has only surrendered one run all year and has not given up a hit in her last four appearances. Her ERA stands at 0.91.
“I always say she’s my dog,” said catcher Izzy Pacho. “She just she gets on the mound, and she just digs deep and goes. I think her drop ball is way more effective now than it was at the beginning of season and her changeup is more consistent, and I think she’s just up there with a chip on her shoulder. Like, ‘I’m going to prove myself and show you that whatever you swing at, you’re not going to do anything good with it.’ I’m so proud of her.”
The second game got through one out in the bottom of the first but was stopped after Skaggs hit an RBI double to left center. With Arizona leading 1-0, the players were taken off the field and the tarp pulled out as a steadier rain began to fall.
It didn’t bother the Wildcats.
“It was fun,” Pacho said. “We just have a good time in the dugout. Rain delay’s extra time to just hang out with my best friends and just have fun.”
When the game resumed approximately 45 minutes later, a strikeout and a pop-up allowed the Aggies to get out of the first without more damage. The strikeout by DiNardo was just the sixth for the freshman in 23 games.
NMSU finally got on the board in the second inning of game two. Blanchard started off the inning by walking the leadoff and giving up a single to the second batter. She bounced back to get a pop-up and a strikeout. However, the pitcher made an errant throw in the next at-bat, allowing Jayleen Burton to reach and pinch runner Savannah Bejarano to score.
The Wildcats picked their pitcher up in the bottom half of the inning, scoring five runs on three hits, two walks, two hit batters, a sacrifice, and an error.
“I think it’s important that they just move on to the next play,” Lowe said. “And I think they have her back, and...it’s just what’s important right now in this very moment and that’s to get the next out. So, they didn’t think twice about it. They didn’t dwell on it. They didn’t lose eye contact, which is characteristic of when things go wrong.”
Then, it was time for Pacho.
Pacho had not hit a home run since her first at-bat of the season when she launched a grand slam out of Hillenbrand. It wasn’t a grand slam on this night, but it was a walk-off three-run job that gave her team the eight-run lead it needed to end the late game.
Arizona returns to Pac-12 play on Friday, Mar. 17 for a three-game series against Utah. The Utes were the only team to go undefeated in the opening weekend of conference play. They are now ranked 25th in the ESPN/USA Softball poll and receiving votes in the NFCA/USA Today poll.