Arizona softball: 'Long day,' long season ends

Cats rally to beat Penn, then ousted by Baylor for 1st time in format
2013-05-19T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:32:26Z Arizona softball: 'Long day,' long season endsPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - In the end, the Arizona Wildcats were bounced from the NCAA tournament regional for the same reason they were sent to the Brazos Valley here as the third-highest team in their own pod: because they weren't good enough.

With an 8-4 elimination loss to Baylor at Aggie Softball Complex on Saturday, the Wildcats failed to make a super regional for the first time since the round was invented eight years ago.

They missed the Women's College World Series for the third-straight year, the days of annual Oklahoma City appearances longer ago by the day.

And, were it not for a face-saving, two-out, seventh-inning rally to beat Penn 3-2 earlier Saturday, the UA would have gone two-and-out in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1987, a streak older than any player.

"It was a long day at the ballpark, to say the least," UA coach Mike Candrea said. "I was proud to the way these kids battled, but when it really came down to it, I think the best team won."

He said the best two teams - Baylor and Texas A&M - lasted to today's final round of regionals for a reason.

The Bears made sure the Wildcats could never pull away.

When the UA (33-26) scored two runs off Baylor freshman Heather Stearns to start the game - on a Kelsey Rodriguez single and Brigette Del Ponte sacrifice fly, both with the bases loaded - the Bears parried with four.

Baylor (41-16) got back-to-back doubles by Linsey Hays and Sarah Smith to plate four and chase starter Nancy Bowling in favor of Shelby Babcock, who had lasted only six batters in Friday's start.

After the Wildcats tied the game an inning later on Del Ponte's double and an accompanying throwing error, Baylor scored two more runs of its own immediately off Babcock.

Every time the UA scored Saturday, Baylor added runs of its own the next inning.

"One of the big things we ask of our girls is, 'Respond,'" coach Glenn Moore said. "Every time they scored, we scored the next inning. That was big, to keep their momentum from growing."

The Bears got two more off UA reliever Estela Piñon - one apiece in the sixth and seventh - and, on total, scored six of their eight runs with two outs.

"I feel like a broken record, but I've said this a million times," Candrea said. "We just haven't executed the game the way it needs to be executed at this level."

That's been the case all season: the Wildcats' final record and Pac-12 mark were both the worst in the Candrea era at the UA.

"We just struggled from Day 1, trying to put the game together," Candrea said.

That started with pitching - the UA gave up more runs and homers this year than ever - and extended to hitting, defense and even attitude.

"We have not supplied a lot of offensive opportunities," Candrea said. "The way we've won games is, 'Hang in with someone and win in the last inning.'"

That happened earlier Saturday against Penn.

Friday night, making its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, the Ivy League champ lost to Texas A&M 12-0.

Saturday, the Quakers led the UA 2-0 after first baseman Georgia Guttadauro yanked a two-run homer down the right-field line.

The Wildcats added one in the bottom half, but waited until they were down to their final out to tie the game.

With a runner on second and two out in the seventh, Hallie Wilson bounced a single to the left of the shortstop. Mandie Perez, who'd reached on a single and a bunt, hopped over the ball and scored from second.

"It's softball, you're never out 'til you're out," said Leslie King, coach of Penn (30-20). "One pitch. You never know.

"They took advantage of their opportunity. I would have loved to have had that pitch back."

The UA won it, 3-2 in the eighth, when Chelsea Goodacre scored on a Rodriguez sacrifice fly.

Wilson said the team didn't take Penn lightly, because the Wildcats "have been the underdog before" this season.

"We always get down in games," said Del Ponte, a senior who played her last UA game. "We always do a good job of coming back in the sixth and the seventh and scoring runs. …

"We did a good job today; we just didn't get the hits that we needed."

That's the problem: The UA didn't play all that poorly.

It just wasn't good enough.

"This team has a lot of growth that needs to take place," Candrea said.

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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