Devyn Netz came out to pitch the final game of the series against Oregon looking every bit the part of Arizona’s ace. She stepped into the batter’s box looking every bit like the Wildcats’ best power hitter. She wasn’t given the chance to make the big difference, though, and UA lost its 13th straight Pac-12 game by the score of 7-4. The Wildcats have now been swept in four straight series.
For the first time this weekend, fifth-year catcher Izzy Pacho started behind the plate instead of at designated player. She and Netz seemed to have a solid rapport. There were fewer pauses between pitches as the battery tried to get on the same page with the dugout. There were fewer wild pitches and passed balls. Netz looked sharp and confident.
Two groundouts and a strikeout gave her the 1-2-3 first inning.
In the top of the second, she led off for the Arizona offense. A single down the left field line got the Wildcats rolling. They took their first lead of the series with three runs on four hits and an Oregon error in the second frame.
Netz kept things going when she went back into the circle. A leadoff single by Terra McGowan was harmless when Arizona’s No. 1 pitcher induced a groundout and struck out two.
Speaking of Netz, she was at it again in the third. A one-out solo home run by the pitcher put the Wildcats up 4-0.
Last weekend, Arizona took a 4-0 lead over UCLA only to have the Bruins put five runs on the board in the seventh to win 8-4. It couldn’t possible happen again, could it?
Oregon started to catch up with Netz in the fourth. Two singles were followed by a three-run homer off the bat of Ariel Carson to make it a one-run game. There was no more damage that inning, though, so Arizona emerged still in line to end its conference losing streak.
Netz settled down again in the fifth, sitting the Ducks down in order on just eight pitches. Despite the strong inning in the fifth, Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe decided to remove Netz and put Ali Blanchard in.
Blanchard came into the game with a team-high 4.49 ERA. Despite pitching just 44 innings this season, she leads the team in walks with 28. Two of those came in her 0.1 IP on Sunday. Netz, who has pitched 133.1 innings, has given up just three more home runs than Blanchard, but it was Blanchard in whose hands the game was placed.
Allee Bunker led off the bottom of the sixth with a single. McGowan drew the walk to put two on with no outs. KK Humphreys sacrificed them over. Then, another crucial decision was made in the dugout: walk Ariel Carlson intentionally.
In a vacuum, it was an understandable call. Carlson was 3 for 6 with 2 home runs in her previous six at-bats against Arizona. In addition, it would set up the force out at any base.
In this particular situation, though, it was playing with fire. Blanchard had issued 29 free passes by walking or hitting batters this season. There was no margin for error in this situation. Sure enough, Blanchard hit the next batter, pushing her total of free passes to an even 30 and forcing in the tying run. Worse than that, the bases were still loaded with one out. Karissa Ornelas took care of that. Her double down the right field line drove everyone in. Oregon led 7-4.
With the horse already out in the field, Lowe tried to close the barn door. Netz went back to the circle. She got the strikeout and the fly out to end the inning, but it was too late.
Blaise Biringer led off the seventh with a single. Dakota Kennedy tried to bunt for the base hit. She didn’t reach first safely, but it went for the sacrifice and put Biringer in scoring position. Biringer was still on second base when the final out was recorded.
Arizona out-hit Oregon 8-7 and was the beneficiary of two errors by the Ducks. As has been a problem in many games, the Wildcats stranded too many runners. Six of their baserunners were left on base compared to just three for UO.
Netz gave up three earned runs on five hits in 5.2 innings. She walked one and struck out six. She threw 53 of her 73 pitches for strikes.
On offense, Netz went 2 for 4, including a solo homerun. Biringer also had a multi-hit game, going 2 for 3 with a sacrifice. Biringer, Netz, Tayler Biehl and Jasmine Perezchica each had an RBI.
Blanchard gave up four earned runs on two hits in 0.1 IP. She walked two and hit a batter.
Arizona is done playing on the road in the regular season. The Wildcats return to Tucson to host Oregon State and California in regular season series before hosting the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Wildcats had an opportunity to make up some ground on Arizona State this weekend, something they need to do to avoid the tournament play-in game and a possible first-round matchup against UCLA. Arizona went into the weekend trailing ASU by two games. The Wildcats only need to tie the Sun Devils because they hold the tiebreaker, but they were not able to help their cause this weekend.