Arizona softball had every reason to not believe. Utah had beaten the Wildcats decisively in the series opener on Friday night. They are missing slugger Carlie Scupin for at least a month. They are down to just 16 available players with reserve utility player Kaiah Altmeyer sidelined with back issues.
They didn’t let any of it defeat them. They didn’t let the Utes defeat them, either, in a huge comeback 10-9 victory in nine innings at Hillenbrand Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It ended Utah’s 11-game winning streak and gave the Utes their first loss in Pac-12 play.
“I saw them grow up in a way and just go to another level I haven’t seen them go to yet in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to where they just refuse to be beat,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe. “And I think that has been something we’ve talked about. Wanting the moment to be yours and slowing those moments down.”
Earlier in the season, Arizona had several games against top competition in which it fell behind early and came back to make it a close loss. The Wildcats could just never close the deal and get the win. They finally did.
“I saw them go up to the plate with just this beast mode look in their eyes versus feeling any kind of pressure on themselves to do it,” Lowe said. “It’s a good feeling when you see that one through nine in an offensive lineman, for sure.”
It didn’t start off like Friday’s dominant Utah win. It was a pitcher’s duel headed into the seventh inning with the Utes leading 2-1.
The Utes were kept off-balance for the first four innings by freshman pitcher Aissa Silva. Arizona couldn’t keep Utah off the board in the second half of the game, though, as the Utes took the lead three times late.
Silva gave up just one hit through the first four innings. That second hit was a big one. With Arizona leading 1-0, Utah’s Sophie Jacquez took the first pitch of the fifth inning out of the park to right field. It leveled the game.
After getting the next two batters out, Silva gave up a single to Abby Dayton. A pinch-hit double by Emily Capobianco scored Dayton from first to give Utah its first lead of the game.
Silva had given up just two runs when she went back out to complete the game in the seventh. Another home run, two singles and a double gave the Utes a 4-1 lead with Arizona still needing an out to get back up to bat.
Devyn Netz was responsible for the RBI that put Arizona’s only run to that point on the board. Arizona’s ace was at first base, a position she will likely see more of this season with Scupin out. With a runner on and still needing an out in the top of the seventh, she moved to the circle and right fielder Tayler Biehl came in to take over at first.
Netz got the out Arizona needed and sent the Wildcats to what looked like their final at-bats. They weren’t quite ready for it to end.
Utah starter Syndey Sandez was pitching well, too. Aside from the run in the first inning, she kept Arizona from getting much going. She had 11 strikeouts, six walks, and six hits when she ran into trouble in the bottom of the seventh.
Jasmine Perezchica started things off with an infield single. After a groundout by Blaise Biringer, Allie Skaggs drew her second walk of the game. Netz got on via the fielder’s choice that wiped out Skaggs, giving Arizona just one out to work with.
For the second time in the game, Lowe was forced to use a member of her pitching staff as a pinch runner due to a lack of available reserves. Earlier in the game, starting pitcher Silva ran for Izzy Pacho. Ali Blanchard came out to run for Netz in the seventh and moved to second on a passed ball. It was a big move.
Freshman designated player Olivia DiNardo took a 1-1 pitch back up the middle for a single. Perezchica scored from third and Blanchard got in safely, too, when Utah shortstop Karlie Davison couldn’t cleanly field it.
O Dawg delivers! RALLY TIME. pic.twitter.com/jRSz5DLS9D— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) March 18, 2023
Paige Dimler went in to run for DiNardo, and outfielder Dakota Kennedy kept things going with a single of her own.
Utah decided to make a pitching move with two on and two out, bringing in Sarah Ladd for Sandez. Sandez had thrown 140 pitches by that point.
Ladd couldn’t preserve the win for the Utes. She walked Pacho to load the bases, bringing up Sophia Carroll. Carroll didn’t get the hit, but Arizona tied things up with a second passed ball that scored Dimler.
PASSED BALL.— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) March 18, 2023
TIE GAME. pic.twitter.com/Q6okMtOhhD
Utah once again took the lead in the top of the eighth inning with a two-out single by Dayton that scored two runs. Arizona was facing its last three outs for the second consecutive inning, this time sitting in a 6-4 hole.
Once again, Perezchica got on to give them a runner. This time, it was a one-out single. Skaggs walked for the third time in the game to move Perezchica into scoring position, but there were two outs at this point.
Netz got an RBI single to score Perezchica and move Skaggs to second. It was her second RBI of the game.
DiNardo came through in the second straight inning with an RBI single to score Skaggs and tie things up. Perhaps getting anxious, Netz tried to go from first to third on the hit and was thrown out to end the frame, but Arizona was ready for yet another extra inning of softball.
The Utes’ offense was ready, too. They put up three runs on two hits and an error in the ninth to take a late multiple-run lead for the third time.
Facing a 9-6 deficit, the Wildcats had their backs against the wall. By this time, they were used to it.
Kennedy led the inning off with a double to left center. It was time for another Utah pitching change.
Utah’s Friday starter, Mariah Lopez, came in for Ladd with one on and no outs in the ninth. She was very effective against the Wildcats as a starter the night before, but she didn’t have quite as much luck as a reliever on Saturday.
Lopez hit Pacho to put two on with no outs. Carroll, who was 1 for 4 in the game to that point, stepped into the box. The shortstop took a 1-1 pitch and hit a high home run to right, tying the game in one swing. There were still no outs.
.— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) March 19, 2023
TIE GAME. pic.twitter.com/O2K4lzBE7W
“Soph didn’t feel great at the plate the whole day,” Lowe said. “And then she had her head screwed on for her last at-bat, and sometimes that’s what the game is. And she gets that special moment because she was ready for it at the end.”
It was just the 30th at-bat for Carroll in 21 games this season. When Netz pitches, DiNardo hits for the shortstop, so Carroll hasn’t had a lot of chances. She made this one count.
“I think it’s really important to show up on both sides,” Carroll said. “This team is full of amazing hitters, so when I get an opportunity, I want to help in any way.”
Lopez followed the home run with a walk to Biehl and was lifted for original starter Sandez.
Sandez wasn’t as sharp when she came in the second time. She walked Perezchica to put two on with no outs. Biringer hit into a fielder's choice, but Sandez made an errant throw to third trying to get the lead runner and Biehl got in safely. An obstruction call on the third baseman was briefly discussed by Arizona third base coach Lauren Lappin and the third-base umpire but didn’t result in any changes to the runners’ positions.
With the bases loaded, Skaggs once again came to the plate needing nothing more than a walk or a sacrifice fly to walk the Utes off. Her fourth straight walk did the job.
Netz got the win to improve her record to 9-7. She gave up four hits and five runs (two earned) in 2.1 innings of work. She hit a batter and had one strikeout.
“I felt way better than I did yesterday,” Netz said. “I felt really good on the offensive side, but defensive, I know I’ve got to work through some things and actually trust my teammates on both sides of the ball.”
Silva got the no decision, giving up nine hits and four earned runs in 6.2 IP. She struck out one and didn’t walk anyone.
On the offensive side, Perezchica went 2 for 3, scored three runs, and walked three times. She also stole a base.
DiNardo went 3 for 5 with two RBIs. Carroll led in RBIs with three.
Arizona had 11 hits, 11 walks, and 2 hit batters, leaving 10 on base.
Arizona and Utah will meet again to decide the series on Sunday at 11 a.m. MST. The game will air on Pac-12 Arizona.