PJ Brown Special to the Arizona Daily Star
The Arizona Wildcats were patient.
They knew they needed just one win to earn another trip to the Women’s College World Series. Just one more victory after defeating Mississippi State on Friday afternoon in extra innings.
The Arizona Wildcats were poised, too. They shook off any nerves or tightness they may have felt early on. After all, these are the Postseason Wildcats, a team that — following Saturday’s 7-1, Super Regional-clinching win over Mississippi State in Starkville — is now 5-0 so far in the playoffs.
So when the time was right, Arizona struck. The Wildcats scored all seven runs in the fourth inning and cruised to the finish line to defeat their hosts in front of a recording-breaking crowd of 2,229.
“I think we came out today knowing we just didn’t want to go to a Game 3 (on Sunday), and we definitely wanted to get this win and make our statement,” said sophomore Carlie Scupin, who ripped a home run.
What a statement the Wildcats made.
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Saturday’s victory continued arguably the most improbable run to the Women’s College World Series in program history. The Wildcats started the Pac-12 season 0-8, then slowly turned things around, going 8-8 the rest of the way. They still finished tied for last place in the Pac-12 standings, and were a bubble team heading into the NCAA Tournament selection show.
Arizona made the postseason as an unseeded team, then turned things up a notch.
They headed to the NCAA Regional in Columbia, Missouri, and swept the field. Next, they squared off against a Mississippi State team that upset No. 2 Florida State in the regionals.
The Bulldogs were no match for the Wildcats, who have qualified for their 25th WCWS — and the first under coach Caitlin Lowe, who replaced Mike Candrea last summer.
“I think now I understand. Watching from the dugout and watching them celebrate — just everything that goes into a season. It’s a lot,” Lowe said. “For that moment when they jumped ahead (on Saturday), just realize everything that they’ve put into it and seeing (it). I talked to Shar (Palacios) and having her in my office in March and just seeing her face.
“Always knowing the light at the end of the tunnel because we knew how good we were. We knew how good we were at practice and not a lot of people saw it. We had to choose each other and believe that we were gonna get it done. … But we figured out a way and I think that’s what makes me the most proud is that they didn’t give up on each other.”
The Wildcats’ pitching has been a revelation in the postseason. Righties Hanah Bowen and Devyn Netz have thrown five complete games over the last two weekends. Two of them were shutouts.
Netz, who was Saturday’s starter, seemed to get stronger and seemed more in control as the game went on. She only allowed two hits after giving up a run in the second inning and finished giving up five hits, walking three and striking out two in an efficient, 80-pitch game.
“…What I noticed today was ‘Bo’ was giving feedback to the offense and everybody was in it. Everybody was in it, every pitch, doing their part,” Lowe said. “(Bowen) didn’t even have the ball in her hand and she was trying to help in any way she could. And I think that’s been the story of the last couple of weeks is everyone doing their part, invested in every single pitch. They might have felt nervous in the beginning but they’re tough. They’re tough and then they realize they’ve got a great defense behind them. And I know I mentioned that yesterday, I believe that our pitching is feeding into our defense and our defense into our offense and I think we’re pretty dangerous when that happens.”
Netz connected on her defense. Only two of MSU’s hits went out of the infield, and 12 were ground outs. She also double plays to end three consecutive innings.
“To have three in one game is phenomenal,” Netz said. “…We have a phenomenal defense, and I was so proud of them for stepping up and coming through. Not only does it help me, but it helps them get to the plate and knock in some runs.”
Scupin, the first baseman on the back end of those outs, added that middle infielders Sophia Carroll and Allie Skaggs “make it look easy.”
Of the 12 groundouts, Carroll and Skaggs handled nine of them.
Scupin started off that fourth inning with a two-run blast to right field. It was her 19th home run of the season. Scupin wasn’t happy with her at-bats this weekend — she hadn’t gotten any hits — and said she knew she was due.
The other five runs were scored by playing “small ball,” a feat aided by a few MSU errors. Paige Dimler was hit by a pitch, and Blaise Biringer hit one down the left field line just out of reach of Paige Cook at third base. Carroll reached on a fielder’s choice on a ball hit to the shortstop, Madisyn Kennedy, who committed an error on the throw to third. The bases were loaded.
The Bulldogs brought in Kenley Hawk from the bullpen to face pinch hitter Bailey Thompson. Thompson worked a five-pitch walk to bring home a run. Janelle Meoño reached on fielder’s choice, and another throwing error — this one by Cook — brought in two more runs. Palacios then hit a 2-2 pitch to right field, driving in two runs.
That big inning quieted down the Mississippi State fans. Only three Bulldogs would reach the rest of the game. None would pass first base.
Arizona’s started on the field and continued back at the team hotel, where the Wildcats—still wearing their game uniforms—took a plunge in the pool. Athletic director Dave Heeke joined in the fun.
There’s bound to be more excitement, starting Thursday in Oklahoma City. The Wildcats’ opponent in the first game: No. 7-seeded Oklahoma State.
“We have a chance,” Lowe said, “and we’re not ready to be done yet.”