It was as if the University of Arizona softball team was using SEC opponents as stepping stones on its path to the Women’s College World Series.
After rolling over the University of Maryland BC in the opening game of the NCAA regionals, the next four opponents were from the SEC conference. The Wildcats beat Ole Miss twice to advance to the weekend’s Super Regionals, and then swept No. 6 Arkansas in two straight wins to punch their ticket to Oklahoma City for the program’s 24th appearance in the WCWS.
And on Thursday, the Cats will face another SEC opponent in their quest for a ninth NCAA title: No. 3 Alabama.
The way No. 11 Arizona is playing right now, you have to question whether the Cats should be considered an underdog against the Tide. The Cats’ pitching has been spot-on, and their power at the plate makes them one of the most explosive teams in the tournament.
Arizona allowed Arkansas just eight hits total for two games, four in the first game and four in the second game to sweep the three-game series. Hanah Bowen (10-3) was in the circle for the seven innings of the first game and Alyssa Denham (19-8) went the distance against the hogs in the Saturday clincher.
That’s five runs and eight hits total against the No. 4 home-run hitting team in the nation.
But it was Arizona putting on the long-distance display, blasting five home runs in the two games. In the first game, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza hit an opposite-field, two-run homer in the fifth inning, her eighth this season, to give Arizona a one-run lead they would hold the rest of the way.
And then the roof fell in for the Razorbacks. The Cats launched four home runs in the second game, a pair by Dejah Mulipola, to overwhelm the host team. Sharlize Palacios cranked out a tape-measure shot over the center field fence in the fifth inning, and Jessie Harper added another in the sixth, the 91st home run of her career.
They will need every bit of that power at the plate to stand a chance against Alabama. The Tide (50-7) is also coming into the first game of the WCWS undefeated through its first five games. They beat Clemson and Alabama State twice to blow through the regionals — all three wins were shutouts.
In its Super Regional, Alabama knocked off Kentucky in straight games, 4-3, 4-1.
This will be the Tide’s 13th trip to the WCWS, the last in 2019. They come into the three-game series on an 18-game winning streak, 16 of those wins against ranked teams.
Thursday’s game is Arizona’s fifth straight against an SEC team. But this SEC team poses a much bigger threat.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)