If pitchers aren’t going to give Allie Skaggs anything to hit, Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe decided she was going to take advantage of that. Skaggs came into the final game of the series against Washington 1 for 1 with six walks. Those were lead-off worthy numbers, and that’s exactly where the junior found herself in the lineup for the first time in her career.
It worked. Skaggs led the game off with a single before UW got her out for the first time all series with a groundout in the top of the third inning. It was the only time the Huskies’ pitchers retired her all weekend.
It just wasn’t enough as the Huskies defeated the Wildcats 6-4 in eight innings on Sunday. The victory gave UW the series sweep.
The Wildcats’ second baseman ended the day 1 for 2 with a walk, a sacrifice fly, and a hit by pitch. She also had one RBI after coming into the game ranked third in Division I with 44.
First career start as the leadoff batter first hit of the game!@allieskaggs9 stays perfect on the weekend!— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) March 26, 2023
Skaggs wasn’t the only one to move in the batting order. To make room for her at the top of the order, Jasmine Perezchica was moved to ninth. It’s a tactic that both Lowe and former coach Mike Candrea referred to as the “secondary lead-off” hitter. Lowe used it last year with Perezchica in the nine-hole and former Wildcat Janelle Meoño at the top of the order.
Interesting lineup but it makes a lot of sense. With Skaggs being walked almost every time she goes to the plate, this is an almost guaranteed baserunner. Also goes back to the "dual leadoff" thing they used to do with the 9 hitter. pic.twitter.com/yMsBKaIsBP— Kim Doss (@KimDoss71) March 26, 2023
This caused a cascade of changes. It was a success as far as the offense went. Devyn Netz, Tayler Biehl and Blaise Biringer all went 2 for 4 at the plate. Biehl and Biringer both scored a run. Netz and Biehl each had an RBI.
Despite being able to catch up with Washington’s pitchers, Arizona couldn’t maintain the momentum. It was a story line that played out in all three games of the series. When Arizona’s offense scored—whether to take the lead or even just knot it up—Washington regularly bounced back immediately.
On Sunday, the Wildcats took the first inning lead only to see the Huskies even it up in their half of the inning. The pattern repeated itself in the fifth and eighth innings.
Things went Arizona’s way when Skaggs stepped into the box at the beginning of the game. Her single to right field was followed by a single by Netz to give Arizona two runners with no outs. UW starter Brooke Nelson worked her way around the situation, giving up just one run. It was not ideal for the Wildcats, but at least they had the lead.
It didn’t last for long, though. Netz retired the always-dangerous Baylee Klingler to sit down the lead-off, but Madison Huskey was up next and she wasn’t going to be dismissed. Huskey sent the 0-1 pitch out of the park to tie the game.
Arizona tried again in the fifth. Although Nelson had given up just one hit—a double to Sophia Carroll—since the first inning, Washington head coach Heather Tarr opted to bring in freshman Ruby Meylan to start the fifth.
Meylan was effective against the Wildcats in the first game of the series. Although she walked four, she gave up just one hit while striking out 10 in a 3-1 UW win. She was not as effective facing the Arizona hitters for the second time in as many days.
Meylan gave up seven hits and three earned runs on Sunday. She struck out just one in four innings. Even some of her outs were firmly struck fly balls that might have left the park in Tucson.
It got started immediately. Biehl took the first pitch to centerfield for a double. Perezchica followed with an infield single that moved Biehl 60 feet from the Arizona lead, and Perezchica joined her in scoring position on a passed ball.
Skaggs got her RBI via a sacrifice fly, scoring Biehl from third and allowing Perezchica to move up. An RBI single from Netz gave Arizona a two-run cushion.
It wasn’t enough. After helping put her team up by two with her bat, Netz came back out to pitch and immediately allowed a lead-off single. One out later, she gave up the two-run shot to Alana Johnson that once again tied the game at three runs apiece. That's how the fifth inning ended.
Arizona got the lead-off runner on base in the sixth and had two on with two outs in the seventh, but it couldn’t make use of either situation. Meanwhile, Netz was cruising in the circle after giving up the tying home run in the fifth.
The Wildcats did the classic “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” when they went up to bat in the eighth inning. Biringer led off with a double. Carroll put down the sacrifice bunt to move her to third with one out.
Things looked a lot more challenging for Arizona when Izzy Pacho popped up into shallow center for the second out. It was not deep enough to get Biringer in to score and the Wildcats were no longer in a position to use a sac fly to score the go-ahead run.
It turned out not to matter as much as it could have. Biehl took a soft swing and sent the ball the opposite way over the drawn-in left side of the infield. It bounced inside the left field line and kept moving. It was more than enough to knock Biringer in and give Arizona the 4-3 lead.
The Wildcats couldn’t tack on another run, but from all appearances, they were ready to put this to bed. Netz had dismissed eight straight since giving up the one-out home run in the fifth. She had only thrown 83 pitches heading into the eighth inning.
Instead, the Huskies responded as they had all weekend. When Arizona scored, Washington jumped to life.
In the bottom of the eighth, Johnson hit a lead-off single after evening the count at 2-2. Freshman Brooklyn Carter fell behind 0-2 before getting her own single. Two on, no outs and one of the most dangerous hitters in the country coming up.
Before Klingler came up to bat, Arizona pitching coach Taryne Mowatt-McKinney came to the circle to talk to her pitcher and the infield. Mowatt-McKinney seemed satisfied with what was said.
Of late, these situations have prompted Lowe to make the change and call in Breezy Hardy. Whether it was because Hardy has given up a run in each of her last two appearances or simply because Netz had thrown so few pitches and appeared ready, the coaches decided that this was her hitter to face and her game to win or lose.
Klingler tied Skaggs with a league-leading 24 home runs last year. She won the triple crown. She may have started this game by making Washington’s first out, but she is known as a special player for a reason.
After keeping Klingler from hitting one out of the park all weekend, Arizona finally gave her a pitch she could launch. The three-run home run earned UW its second straight walk-off win over the Wildcats.