Two-and-out: UA softball eliminated from WCWS

Seven seniors on last year’s University of Arizona softball team returned this season for an extra year of eligibility.  They wanted to help lead the Wildcats to a national title.

That plan appeared to have a good chance of succeeding, as the Cats rolled through the regionals and super regionals without a single loss to earn their ticket to the Women’s College World Series.

But the dream evaporated shortly after the team arrived in Oklahoma City to begin the climb through the WCWS brackets.  Arizona suffered consecutive losses to exit the double elimination tournament yesterday afternoon.

Alabama shut down the normally-potent Wildcat offense to post a 5-1 victory in the WCWS opener.  The Tide’s ace pitcher, NCAA strikeout leader Montana Fouts, faced just 22 Arizona batters in the seven-inning game, struck out 16, and held the Wildcats to just two hits.

Arizona’s one shining moment came in the seventh inning when Jessie Harper provided the only Wildcat run by hitting her 16th home run of the season and 92nd of her career, which tied the school and Pac-12 career home-run records.

The second game, with Florida State, was much more closely contested, with drama unfolding right into the final inning when the Seminoles concluded a rally that brought them back from a 2-0 deficit for the first five innings.

Arizona’s Malia Martinez had homered in the third inning and Carlie Scupin brought the second run across the plate with a sacrifice fly in the fourth.  But the ‘Noles used a home run of their own with two outs in the fifth that brought home two baserunners and gave FSU a one-run lead.

The Cats tied the game up with a Reyna Carranco RBI double in the seventh, but the Seminoles squeezed out the 4-3 win on a sacrifice fly ball in the bottom of that inning.

That extra year granted by the NCAA because COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 season meant that head coach Mike Candrea had one of the most experienced, talent-rich teams in his 36 years leading the program.

This year’s squad included three of the top home run hitters in the country in Harper, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, and Dejah Mulipola, who hit two homers in the final game of the super regionals against Arkansas to vault the Cats into the WCWS.  All three are part of that senior contingency that has provided the experience, as well as the power needed on offense.

And the Wildcats have been efficient in the circle this season.  Mariah Lopez, who took the loss against Florida State after entering the game in relief, is a seasoned pitcher who came to the Arizona program from Oklahoma to give the pitching staff veteran depth.  Her partners in the circle, Alyssa Denham and Hannah Bowen, are also upperclassmen.  Denham, a senior, was the ace this season, finishing her final college season with a 1.95 ERA.

But the Cats’ hitters didn’t have an answer for Alabama’s Fouts, and the Arizona pitchers allowed eight hits against Florida State and couldn’t keep its runners off the base paths.

This was supposed to be a fairybook ending to a season that was inspired by so many seniors showing loyalty to the program by returning for an extra year.

Instead, this was a season to be remembered.  But for the wrong reasons.

(Photo: Arizona Athetics)