Oregon State defeated Arizona State on Saturday afternoon, giving Arizona a chance to gain in the Pac-12 standings and avoid a bad draw in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament. Despite facing a starting pitcher who came in with a 6.39 ERA, the Wildcats were unable to put it all together as they fell to California 8-6 on Saturday evening at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“Offensively it took us a little while to get on time,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe. “Once we did, we settled in pretty good. I thought we had our best at-bats towards the end. Defensively, we have to put a better first foot forward.”
Arizona can finish no better than eighth in the Pac-12. The Wildcats will play in Wednesday’s play-in game for the right to take on first-place UCLA.
Mental errors in the first inning cost starter Sydney Somerndike and the Wildcats. It appeared that the freshman pitcher had a groundout to second on leadoff hitter Tatum Anzaldo, but an illegal pitch call sent her back to the batter’s box. Two pitches later, Anzaldo hit it out for Cal’s first run.
Arizona’s defense then had two plays where no one covered second base, allowing the inning to continue. The first occurred when California third baseman Makena Smith hit a soft liner to Somerndike in the circle for the out. Acacia Anders was halfway between second and third bases, but no one was covering second and Somerndike couldn’t double her up.
Elon Butler hit what should have been a bloop single to shallow center later in the inning, but again no one could get to second and she turned it into a double.
“We have to go for the fly ball, and then not recover on the flip side, and they were ready for it,” Lowe said.
Somerndike kept the damage to one run by inducing a popup to short by Kacey Zobac and striking out Tianna Bell, but it wasn’t an auspicious start for the Wildcats.
Things didn’t get better for the Wildcats in the second inning. A one-out single by Kennedy Thomas gave the Golden Bears a runner. After a strikeout, Anzaldo came back to the plate. Once again, she took Somerndike yard to put California ahead 3-0.
Lowe tried everything to keep from having to use Devyn Netz again. Breezy Hardy came in for Somerndike to start the third. She sat down four straight Bears but was lifted for Aissa Silva with two on and two out in the fourth.
Silva promptly hit the first two batters she faced, loading the bases and then forcing in a run. She then walked in two more runs to put Cal up 6-0 in the fourth.
Lowe finally brought in Netz. The junior got the final out of the fourth to put Arizona on offense.
The ‘Cats had done little with the bats to that point. They headed into the bottom of the fourth with just two hits, but they finally responded.
Allie Skaggs got it started with a one-out single. Netz followed it with her own single, then Blaise Biringer loaded them up with a single.
In stepped fifth-year senior Izzy Pacho to pinch hit for Tayler Biehl. It’s a role she’s been successful at this series.
“I think experience in the pinch-hitting role is kind of key to it,” Pacho said. “Being a pinch hitter as a freshman isn’t too much fun...I feel like I pinch hit a lot my first two years. I don’t know if I call it successfully, but I think I learned a lot. And coming in as a fifth-year senior, you hear your name called and there’s this deep breath that I take I put my stuff on. I already know what my plan is against the pitcher because I’m talking to girls who’ve seen her. We watch film during the week. So, I’m just as prepared as if I were to start. But it’s just stepping into the box and knowing that I’m hunting a pitch that I want and I’m just trying to make something happen for the team.”
Pacho made something happen. Her single to centerfield finally broke the scoring barrier for Arizona. Skaggs and Netz crossed home. There were still two on with just one out.
Kaiah Altmeyer, who had started in centerfield for Jasmine Perezchica, reached on a fielder's choice that had Pacho out at second.
California has had its own struggles on defense, and Altmeyer took advantage of that. She took off for second, forcing an errant throw. Biringer scored and Altmeyer reached third. The Wildcats had cut the Cal lead in half. It was now 8-4.
The Golden Bears weren’t done, though. Netz gave up two straight singles to open the sixth. Acacia Anders hit a bunt that got Diamond Holland in to score, giving Cal the 7-3 lead, but Skaggs threw out Anzaldo as she tried to go first to third. There were two out, but yet another run was in.
The Bears have done a great deal of damage with two outs this weekend, and they struck again. Makena Smith launched her 14th home run of the season out of the park to put her team up by five before Netz could secure the third out in the sixth.
Arizona once again took advantage of Cal’s defense in the bottom of the sixth. Pitcher Sona Halajian got the first two outs on a groundout by Skaggs and a fly ball from Netz, but that just meant it was time for Pacho again.
The catcher had stayed in the game as a defensive replacement for freshman backstop Olivia DiNardo, and it’s a good thing she did. Pacho hit a high one to left field that should have been the third out. Hope Alley had come in to play the position for the sure-handed Thomas, who had been Arizona’s nemesis in left all series. Alley didn’t make the play. Pacho reached and Biringer scored.
After Altmeyer drew a walk, Logan Cole came to the plate and knocked a single into center field. With Pacho running from second base, Cal had a chance to throw her out at home. Instead, the ball was cut off and Arizona’s catcher scored. It was now 8-5 in the Bears’ favor in the bottom of the sixth.
“I thought she bobbled it or something,” Pacho said. “So, when I saw [coach Lauren Lappin] sending me, I was like, okay. I honestly didn’t know she cut it off. I was expecting the catcher to have the ball, but I was just fired up to get another run on the board for the team.”
Netz used a double play and a popup to work around a walk and a hit batter in the top of the seventh. It kept the Wildcats within three runs as they reached their final three outs.
Halajian got two strikeouts to put the Bears an out away from winning the series. Netz kept the inning going with a solo home run to close the gap to 8-6, but Biringer grounded out on the first pitch she saw to end the game. The home run was the 13th of the season for Netz, tying her with Skaggs for the team lead.
Arizona will try to salvage a win on senior day on Sunday afternoon. After that, the Wildcats will face either ASU or Oregon State on Wednesday for the game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in the Pac-12 Tournament.