If the three-game series between Arizona and UCLA last month was anything to go on, the Bruins should have come into the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Softball Tournament expecting to knock the cover off the ball and get an easy win. After all, they outscored the Wildcats 30-9 in April.
It didn’t turn out that way. Arizona pushed the second-ranked, top-seeded Bruins to the brink in a 4-3 loss for the Wildcats.
“I’ve said it before, we play every game to win,” said fifth-year senior Izzy Pacho. “That’s just the Wildcat way. I feel like every time we step on the field, whether we have our best stuff or not, we’re going out there to compete and win, and today I felt like we had our best stuff. We gave them a run for their money, and I think they thought they were gonna roll over us and we showed them that we can hang with them.”
Arizona took the early lead with a bit of luck. With two outs, Pacho hit a popup that should have been fielded by second baseman Anna Vines. As Vines turned to field the ball, she ran into the umpire and was knocked to the ground. The ball fell into shallow center field while Vines stayed on the ground for several minutes.
The single by Pacho put runners on the corners for Arizona. A double by freshman Kaiah Altmeyer pushed the first run across. It was a big moment for the freshman, who missed much of the season with a back injury but stepped in for junior Jasmine Perezchica after she was injured in the final regular-season series.
“Just being out for a while, I got to watch and experience a lot, which I think has kind of helped me get to where I am,” Altmeyer said. “I’ve been so eager to play, so I just feel like embracing opportunities, leaving it all out for my team.”
Devyn Netz quickly got her offense back up with three strikeouts in the bottom of the second, and Arizona made good use of it.
Dakota Kennedy led off with a double. A one-out hit by pitch put Olivia DiNardo on base, as well. Netz helped her own cause with a double to score Kennedy and put the Wildcats up 2-0.
Keeping an offense like UCLA’s off the board is a difficult task, though. The Bruins answered Arizona with a two-run home run off the bat of Maya Brady in the bottom of the second to tie the game.
The Wildcats put their noses in front again in the top of the fifth with an RBI single from Allie Skaggs, but the Bruins once again answered in the bottom of the inning. A solo shot by Megan Grant was followed by the second home run of the game for Brady. UCLA had its first lead of the game at 4-3.
“She’s just a good hitter,” Netz said of Brady. “I think just in certain counts, I just missed pitches. I just see it as battles that I’ve lost by just...one bad pitch. And that’s something that I’ve talked about all season, but she’s been successful off of me....I just tip my cap to her.”
That’s where it would end as both pitchers held strong for the rest of the game. Netz made the last out on offense with an excuse-me swing that turned into a 4-3 groundout.
“It’s hard to think I competed my ass off for this team, but also kind of lost the game for us as well,” Netz said. “But this sport is one of failure. I wouldn’t change anything that I did or any pitches I chose to throw in any of those at-bats that I faced with those hitters. But if you asked me and I looked at myself in the mirror tonight, I gave it my all and sometimes it just doesn’t go your way and that’s all right. At least I can say I gave it all for my seniors, for my team and for my coaches.”
Netz pitched her second complete game in as many days. She gave up five hits and four earned runs in six innings. She struck out four and walked six.
The Wildcats had seven hits and three earned runs against Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Megan Faraimo. She walked two and struck out seven.
The Wildcats may have ended their 35-season run of appearing in the postseason with the loss. They entered the day at No. 51 in the RPI and ended with a 29-25 record. The players and coaches weren’t ready to concede that after the game, though.
“I feel good going into Sunday with my squad is all I feel,” Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe said. “And I know we’re gonna stick together no matter what, but I believe they have more games to play, and their best softball is being played right now.”