Friday evening was an opportunity for the Arizona Wildcats to demonstrate some skills they rarely if ever show. Defensive shifts, a sacrifice fly from a slapper, a stolen base from a power hitter, and the first combined perfect game in program history were all part of the recipe in UA’s 8-0 run-rule win over Lipscomb in the early game.
The Wildcats completed the second day of the Candrea Classic with another 5-inning game that ended in an 8-0 victory over North Texas. It improved their record to 3-0.
Freshman Brooke Mannon was the big story in the early game against Lipscomb. The 5-foot-11 power pitcher looked completely at home in the first start of her career. She struck out two of the first three batters she faced. In the second inning, she sat the side down in order on three pitches.
“I was a little nervous in the beginning, but as soon as I got out there and I had everyone talking to me on the infield and then I can see the outfielders excited, it kind of went away,” Mannon said.
None of the Bisons was even a threat to reach base until the top of the fourth. With two outs, Brenna Sherman smacked one into the air in left field that looked destined to find the grass. Instead, left fielder Dakota Kennedy used her speed and fearlessness to run it down, laying out to make the spectacular grab and keep her pitcher’s game perfect.
DAKOTA KENNEDY, ARE YOU KIDDING!— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) February 10, 2024
Kota lays out for the web gem pic.twitter.com/eY4IXqs0v2
That was the last batter Mannon faced despite giving up no hits and no walks while striking out five in her first start. She was removed after the fourth in favor of Ali Blanchard, who pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning. It was the 10th perfect game in Arizona history but the first combined perfect game.
Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe said that the decision to pull Mannon was based on it being a doubleheader.
“Depending on what we needed for game two,” Lowe said. “That’s the thing about doubleheaders. We got to figure out how the four of them are going to work together for a prolonged season.”
Mannon was just pleased that the team got the result.
“I guess I wasn’t worried about being pulled,” Mannon said. “It was like, okay, AB’s going in. And I was like, ‘Hey, we’re up. We’re winning. I don’t mind.’ So I thought it was awesome. AB came in did a great job, shut them down, and then we won.”
Mannon threw 40 total pitches, 28 of those going for strikes. She faced 12 batters in four innings. Five of her outs came by the strikeout.
Blanchard faced three batters in one inning of work. She struck out one, got the flyout from another, and induced the groundout from a third. She threw 15 pitches with 10 going for strikes.
The Arizona defense used positioning throughout the game to keep left-handed hitters off balance. The Wildcats employed a shift, bringing centerfielder Regan Shockey into the left side of second base while moving right fielder Jasmine Perezchica to center and leaving right open. With seven of the nine players on the infield, it was tough for the Lipscomb slappers to get anything through.
That’s something that defensive coach Lauren Lappin and pitching coach Christian Conrad are working on together.
“Christian and Coach Lap, they do a great job of scouting hitters, figuring out what our game plan is and where the ball is gonna go according to who’s pitching, and I give them so much credit for—even when Jaz was in the space she was in in right field for a couple of those plays,” Lowe said. “Those are big time. And (Carlie Scupin) being able to play behind the bag gives us a lot of flexibility there, too. So it just felt, even when you do get the ball hit to you in those scenarios, it feels like it’s meant to be.”
The offense had its own wrinkles. Perezchica got the first sacrifice fly of her career while Allie Skaggs stole a base for just the third time in her career. Skaggs had not stolen a base since Mar. 12, 2022 against UNLV.
Arizona scored its eight runs on eight hits and five walks. Five Wildcats had at least one RBI with Scupin and Emily Schepp leading the way with two each. Scupin’s came on a two-run homer that gave her two home runs in as many games.
Miranda Stoddard got the second start of her Arizona career in the late game. She pitched 2.1 innings, giving up two hits but no runs. She struck out three.
As she had the first time Stoddard pitched, lefty Aissa Silva came in for the lefty-lefty matchup in relief. She pitched the final 2.2 innings and got the win. She gave up no hits while striking out three. Seventeen of her 25 pitches went for strikes.
None of Arizona’s pitchers issued a walk over the two games.
The offense broke out with a grand slam by Olivia DiNardo in the bottom of the third. It put Arizona up 4-0. The big fly was one of two hits DiNardo had in three at-bats.
Fellow sophomore Dakota Kennedy got her offensive feet under her in the nightcap, as well. After going 1 for 5 in the first two games, the left fielder was 3 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored in the late game.
Arizona returns to the field on Saturday, weather permitting. The Wildcats are scheduled to play North Texas again at 4 p.m. MST, but the weather forecast for Saturday is not promising.