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Arizona softball caps Hillenbrand Invitational with run-rule defeat of CSUN

arizona-softball-approaches-full-strength-ucla-comes-to-town-pacho-carroll-scupin-dinardo Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

A hiccup against Nebraska on Saturday didn’t shake Devyn Netz in the circle or the batter’s box. The Arizona pitcher threw a complete game three-hitter and hit a home run on Sunday to lead the Wildcats to a five-inning 9-0 victory over Cal State Northridge.

“I think we really worked on working as a unit on both sides of the ball,” Netz said. “Making sure that whatever we did on defense and offense, we work together...because I felt like against Nebraska, it was hard for us to kind of get going and feel that connection.”

The win lifted Arizona to a 4-1 record at the Hillenbrand Invitational and a 15-6 record overall. It was the final tune-up before the Wildcats open Pac-12 play at Arizona State on Friday.

The Wildcats jumped on CSUN from the beginning. Netz struck out the side in the top of the first, then Arizona sent 10 to the plate in the bottom of the inning. Five of those came around to score, giving the ‘Cats a lead they would not relinquish.

The inning got started with a groundout by centerfielder Jasmine Perezchica. Third baseman Blaise Biringer gave Arizona its first baserunner when she was hit by a pitch. Back-to-back singles by Carlie Scupin and Olivia DiNardo loaded the bases, and an Allie Skaggs walk forced in the first run of the game.

For DiNardo, it was the first of two hits on the day. The freshman went 2 for 2 with a double and two RBIs. She also walked.

Netz followed Skaggs with her first hit of the game, a two-RBI single. The pitcher went 2 for 3 with three RBIs and a home run. The homer was her sixth of the season, putting her one behind Scupin for the team lead.

After giving up five runs in the first inning, CSUN’s pitching was able to keep the Wildcats off balance until the bottom of the fourth. DiNardo got things going with a one-out double that scored Scupin and Biringer. Arizona was closing in on the run rule with a 7-0 lead.

Netz stepped to the plate and put one over the centerfield wall for the deciding runs. She returned to the circle and got the final three outs to end it in five innings.

Netz struck out the first five batters she faced before Shaylan Whatman legged out a single with two outs in the top of the second. The Wildcats’ ace ended with six strikeouts and no walks in five innings of work.

She didn’t have to rely just on the strikeouts because her defense was working well.

“I can trust my team behind me,” Netz said. “I don’t need to throw strikeouts...all the time. I can use my spin to use my defense.”

The first two outs of the top of the fifth came via the 6-4-3 double play. It was the seventh double play turned by the Arizona defense in 21 games this season.

“Our entire infield has gotten better and better, especially since Coach [Lauren] Lappin has been here,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe. “And they buy into every drill, every rep...I was fired up at the double plays because we didn’t used to turn as many double plays, and now as soon as the ball is hit off the bat, they know what’s happening. They have confidence in it and it’s not if but when we’re going to do it.”

The Wildcats now take what they’ve learned from the nonconference season into Pac-12 play. The conference season starts a week earlier this year because of the introduction of the conference tournament.

“I think honestly, it kind of helped us that we got hit a little bit because I think we know now when we go into bullpens pitching-wise, we know what we’re going to work on,” Lowe said. “When we did throw up those zeros on offense, we know how to respond to them. And I think sometimes when things are going well, it doesn’t help you a lot during the week and we’re learning about our team every single day right now, which has been nice. I thought the cool thing about this weekend is everybody got some time and now we know kind of what to expect from every player on the team.”