As they headed into a week of nonconference games away from the Pac-12, the No. 20 Arizona Wildcats did not want anyone to think they were looking past San Diego or Georgetown. There were things they needed to get better at, especially the kind of situational hitting that cost them three games against No. 8 Washington last weekend.
“I think this week, even today in practice, we’re going to be working with base runners on and we’re gonna get live at-bats,” second baseman Allie Skaggs said on Wednesday. “Dakota [Kennedy] is going to come up again with bases loaded, and she’s gonna get another shot to get us some runs.”
Kennedy didn’t just get that opportunity in practice. On Saturday, she got that opportunity in the fifth inning of the first game against San Diego in a 10-0 Arizona win. She got another chance at the end of the 12-4 victory over Georgetown.
Arizona went into the fifth inning of the first game leading San Diego 3-0. Neither team had scored since the Wildcats took a three-run lead in the bottom of the first.
They started chipping away at Toreros starting pitcher Madison Earnshaw. Ali Ashner walked. Paige Dimler got a single and both she and pinch runner Logan Cole moved into scoring position on the throw. Jasmine Perezchica walked to load the bases.
Then, it was time for that situational hitting. With no outs, Skaggs singled to center to score Cole. Pitcher Devyn Netz singled to score Dimler. Catcher Olivia DiNardo followed with a single to centerfield. In came Perezchica to put Arizona up 6-0.
“That’s when hitting becomes contagious, because you’re not going to launch 10 home runs in a row,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe. “That’s just not gonna happen. So, when they’re hitting the ball—seeing the ball into their zone and hitting it hard—then when they pass the bat, it’s like, ‘Okay, this is what I saw. This is what I did.’ And it’s contagious versus one home run every few innings. We don’t like to live that way. They like to kind of catch fire.”
The Wildcats needed two more runs to put this one in the books by the run rule. The bases were still loaded. There were still no outs. Kennedy was up.
The freshman outfielder took a 1-2 pitch and deposited it over the left-field fence for the fourth home run of her career and her second grand slam. Her first four-run homer was against Utah on Mar. 19. This time it was of the walk-off variety.
A day after Arizona hit seven home runs in a doubleheader against Georgetown and San Diego, it was the only four-bagger for the team in the opening game of another doubleheader.
In what has become common for Kennedy, in the second game, she followed up the home run by bunting for base hits in her first two at-bats. Against Utah last month, she also followed her grand slam with a bunt for a base hit.
“I try and use that a lot,” Kennedy said after the game against the Utes. “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.”
Fellow freshman DiNardo hits in front of Kennedy. She has to keep a close eye on her teammate for that reason.
“I felt like she really used her defense on drag bunts,” DiNardo said. “If you look at Dakota, you’re like, ‘Oh, she’s not gonna bunt. No way.’ And then I’m on first and I’m like, ‘Damn, she’s bunting! I gotta go!’ She reads her defense really well and she takes her at-bats seriously.”
It wasn’t Kennedy’s only walk-off of the day, either.
In the second game, she came up with Arizona leading 11-4 in the bottom of the fifth. A sacrifice fly would score the final run from third. Instead, she got a long single, scoring Skaggs for the second run-rule victory of the day and the third of the tournament.
Netz pitched her second straight complete game in the opening game of the doubleheader. She gave up one hit and one walk while striking out three in five innings against the Toreros. That followed a three-hit, two-walk affair against the Hoyas the night before. She struck out a career high 11 batters in that outing.
“She threw more off-speed today,” Lowe said. “I thought last night she was kind of throwing—she had some velocity—so facing the same team it’s nice because they’re expecting one thing and then she’s able to show them something different
Ali Blanchard pitched the second game. She gave up four earned runs on four hits and three walks. She struck out four. As has been a pattern for Blanchard, she pitched well for most of the game, but the walks came back to haunt her twice.
Three of the Hoyas’ four runs came in the third inning. Centerfielder Claire Turner got on base with a one-out single. Fellow outfielder Cameron Kondo drew the walk to give Georgetown two baserunners with one out. A blast from shortstop Morgan Zamora tied the game at three runs apiece.
Arizona bounced back in the bottom of the inning, getting all three runs back for the 6-3 lead. The Wildcats followed that by breaking it open in the fourth.
Blanchard sat down the Hoyas in order in the top of the inning and turned it over to her offense.
Skaggs kicked things off with a first-pitch home run to start the fourth. Netz kept it going with a single, then DiNardo decided to get in on the home run game with a two-run shot to put Arizona up 9-3 with no outs.
Kennedy followed with a single to center then stole second base to give her team a runner in scoring position. An RBI double by Biringer made it 10-3.
Biehl followed Kennedy’s example with a single and a stolen base to give the Wildcats two in scoring position once again. Dimler’s sacrifice fly put Arizona up by eight runs.
The Wildcats just needed three outs to end the game, but Georgetown put up a fight in the top of the fifth.
Blanchard got two quick outs with a fly out and a strikeout. Then, she walked the third batter. Zamora gave Georgetown two runners.
Mae Forshey, who played her prep ball at Arcadia High in Phoenix, stepped into the box and promptly fell into an 0-2 count. The third pitch was an RBI single to left, taking the run rule off the table.
Blanchard got the final out in the top of the fifth, but her team now needed to score again to put an early end to the game.
Walks weren’t just a problem for the Arizona pitcher. Georgetown pitcher Julia Parker issued a four-pitch walk to Skaggs to lead off the fifth. An error on a fielder's choice allowed Logan Cole to reach and Skaggs to go to third. Still no outs.
With one out, it was time for Kennedy again.
“I was just thinking that the pressure’s on the defense at this point,” Kennedy said. “There’s no pressure on me. And I think the most outs that I had when I was up to bat in that situation was only one, so I knew if I didn’t do it, my team always has my back, and they will do it.”
They didn’t need to do it.