One thing about Arizona-Utah softball games this season is that a lot of runs will be scored. For the second straight day, at least one team had double-digit runs in a 13-11 Utah victory in Hillenbrand Stadium.
On Saturday, the Wildcats needed three comebacks to win the game in extra innings. On Sunday, it was Utah’s turn to come back.
Arizona used all five of its pitchers, with Devyn Netz relieving twice. With both teams having seen almost every arm in the bullpen, it was difficult to keep the runs off the board for either side.
“There are going to be times where we don’t feel our best, but the effort and the execution has to—or at least the mindset has to—be there,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe. “And I thought they competed their butts off today and came up one short, but it wasn’t for a lack of preparation or effort. Friday’s loss hurt because I felt like we weren’t ready and I thought today’s loss hurt because it was a collective they left everything out on the field and still came up short, and sometimes that hurts more.”
Ali Blanchard got the start. She ran into some trouble in the first inning, but her defense got her out of it when catcher Izzy Pacho picked Tucson native Ellessa Bonstrom off third base. Bonstrom was initially ruled safe, but in the first of four challenges in the game, the call was overturned.
The challenges and scoring combined with multiple meetings in the circle and pitching changes to drag out the game to five minutes shy of 3.5 hours. It was almost as long as the nine-inning affair of the night before, which ran for 3:35.
Arizona struck back in the bottom of the inning. Jasmine Perezchica continued her great season in the batter’s box. She led off with a single, her 19th hit since returning from a concussion at the beginning of the month. Allie Skaggs drew the one-out walk, her fifth straight going back to the previous game. Olivia DiNardo loaded the bases with two outs.
It was up to Dakota Kennedy to make something happen. And make something happen is exactly what she did. Kennedy put the Wildcats up 4-1 with a grand slam, her third home run of the season.
“Well, I actually came into the game with a mindset of I just wanted to get on base, like first base, my first at-bat,” Kenndy said. “Because all the other games I’ve been saying, ‘Okay, just one hit a game,’ but this one I was like, ‘Okay, first at-bat, I want at least a hit.’ I mean, it worked out for the best and the pitcher, she left it kind of fat. So, I kind of just took advantage of it.”
FIRST INNING GRAND SLAM DAKOTA KENNEDY!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/IYHzqyIAO3— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) March 19, 2023
It was one of two hits Kennedy had in the game. The second was a bunt.
“I try and use that a lot,” Kennedy said. “Just because even if I don’t get the bunt down, it kind of moves them in and out. Just like letting them not know where to stand. Anything to help me.”
She almost had three hits. Kennedy was ruled safe in the second inning when she hit a grounder to first with the umpire ruling that the Utah first baseman missed the tag. Utah’s challenge was successful, and the call was reversed. Kennedy agreed with the overrule.
“She hit my leg,” Kennedy said.
The play took two runs off the board for Arizona, making a 9-1 game 7-1 once again.
Arizona tacked three on in the second with an RBI single by Skaggs and an error by the center fielder that allowed a second run to score. They were staked to a 7-1 advantage.
Utah got four of those runs back in the top of the third to keep it close enough to avoid the run rule later on.
Four more runs went up for the Wildcats in the bottom of the fourth. Skaggs hit a two-RBI double, and Netz followed with a two-run homer. The Wildcats were sitting on an 11-4 lead, again giving them almost enough runs for the run rule if they could add one by the end of the next inning.
LAUNCHED pic.twitter.com/Arkldma2mO— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) March 19, 2023
Netz had taken over for Ali Blanchard in the circle in the second inning. She ran into trouble in the top of the fifth, allowing three straight hits and a run with no outs. Back to first base went Netz and in to pitch came Aissa Silva.
Silva couldn’t stop the onslaught. She allowed two runs to score, then two more crossed on a wild pitch followed by a throwing error by Pacho. With the five-run explosion, the Utes had tied it at 11.
Arizona did not score again, but Utah was not done. The Utes took their first lead since the opening inning with one run in the sixth then tacked on two more in the seventh for the win. The winning runs were scored on a home run by Bonstrom off of Netz, who had come in to pitch in relief for the second time in the game.
Arizona used all five of its pitchers and Netz took the circle twice. The moves were made by moving Biehl around the diamond from right field to first base and playing both Logan Cole and Ali Ashner in right field.
“We’re blessed to have a lot of people that can do a lot of different things,” Lowe said. “Both Logan and Tayler came in as shortstops and Devyn came in as just an athlete, so being able to move them is a luxury that we do have, thank goodness, because we are a little bit short on the bench. But we made it work today and we had enough pieces. Just didn’t execute when we needed to.”
Arizona is 20-9 on the season and 2-3 in Pac-12 play. Utah, which was picked to finish eighth in the conference, improved to 21-5 on the year and 5-1 in conference play.