As expected, the Arizona Wildcats' new pitcher dominated Friday night in her first-ever home softball game at Hillenbrand Stadium.
Only it wasn't starter Nancy Bowling, making her college debut against Drake, who shone.
Rather, Estela Piñon, the Sunnyside High School grad and Yavapai College transfer, allowed one unearned run over five innings to beat Drake 5-3 in relief of Bowling.
"It's very fun," Piñon said. "Coming here, it's a very different level."
Piñon had never played in front of a crowd as large as the 2,488 fans that watched the 5-2 Wildcats win their first two games of the Hillenbrand Invitational.
In the early game, the UA topped Nebraska 1-0 behind Shelby Babcock's four-hitter.
The Wildcats play today at 4 p.m. against Southern Utah and at 6 against Purdue.
"I'm so proud of her," shortstop Brigette Del Ponte said of Piñon. "She's hitting her spots. She's not intimidated. She doesn't care who's hitting."
Game 2 was slated to be a showcase for Bowling, who missed the UA's first week of the season after suffering a concussion in practice. But the Simi Valley, Calif., native allowed a two-run homer to the third batter she faced.
After Bowling gave up three hits and two runs in two innings, UA coach Mike Candrea put in Piñon to start the third.
Candrea said Bowling's pitches "weren't moving," and that "a lot of that was last week, not getting a chance to do much" because of the concussion.
"Coming in, my job was to get those outs," Piñon said. "Your adrenaline is very different when you're at home, and you have your fans and your parents and your family. It's something that you love."
The Bulldogs scored in the fourth, aided by two of the UA's three errors, to go up 3-0.
"The energy of this ballclub changed," Candrea said. "Instead of sitting around and looking at each other, they decided to gather together and bring some energy. It helped."
The Wildcats scored in each of their last three innings.
Hallie Wilson led off the fourth with a double, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Kelsey Rodriguez's single to cut the deficit to 3-1. Mandie Perez led off the fifth with a double over the left fielder's head, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a Wilson sac fly.
Drake removed starter Jordan Gronewold to start the sixth.
Rebekah Schmidt, the reliever, was rattled.
She struck out the first batter she faced, then walked two straight, throwing one wild pitch to the backstop netting on the fly.
Gronewold re-entered to face Mandie Perez, whose slow roller to second base was booted by Drake's Lindsey Vande Wall to load the bases with one out.
Pinch hitter Darcy Taylor walked to tie the game at 3. Del Ponte's sac fly to center field made it 4-3, and Chelsea Suitos' single - the first hit of the inning - gave the UA a 5-3 lead.
"I thought today was a really big day for us," Candrea said. "Winning a close ballgame against Nebraska. And we got behind (against Drake), and we got back in the game. Those are traits you have to have."
The UA's sole run in Game 1 came when Wilson doubled off the center field wall in the fourth inning to score Suitos, who had reached on a two-base error by Nebraska pitcher Tatum Edwards.
That was enough.
"One run is always iffy," said Babcock, who struck out five and walked two. "But some ballgames are going to be like that. And we're going to have to deal with the pressure. I thought we did a pretty good job."
• What: Hillenbrand Invitational
• Where: Hillenbrand Stadium
• Arizona's schedule today: 4 p.m. vs. Southern Utah, 6 p.m. vs. Purdue
Contact reporter Patrick Finley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley