The one thing that Arizona couldn’t afford to do on Thursday night against top-ranked Oregon: make mistakes.
They made mistakes.
The Wildcats committed three uncharacteristic errors, a hit-by-pitch scored a run and they had a base runner doubled up in a 7-3 loss to the visiting Ducks at Hillenbrand Stadium, the team’s first home loss of the season.
Arizona (40-12, 13-9 Pac-12) was 27-0 at home entering the game because of a combination of abundant power and solid fundamentals, and while the power wasn’t entirely absent — Kelsey Rodriguez’ second-inning two-run home run kept the Wildcats in it — the fundamentals were.
“It’s a little frustrating, but at the same time, we know we don’t usually make those mistakes,” catcher Chelsea Goodacre said. “We’ve got to tip our hat, say, ‘you’ve got us today,’ but tomorrow, we’re coming out with a fresh mind. Those mistakes aren’t going to happen again.”
Oregon (48-6-1, 19-2-1) struck first — or, rather, Arizona’s inefficiency plagued them first — in the second inning.
The Ducks started the inning with a walk and two errors, which accounted for one run, then Alyssa Gillespie doubled off Estela Piñon for two more unearned runs.
After the Wildcats cut the lead 3-2 on the Rodriguez long ball, Oregon scored twice more in the fourth inning to regain the momentum — once on a single to shortstop and ensuing throwing error by Kellie Fox that snuck by second baseman Mo Mercado, and one on a hit-by-pitch to Janelle Lindvall that scored another.
“Every team we play against, we have to play our best, but this one was very important to us,” UA’s Katiyana Mauga said.
“The errors shouldn’t have happened, but they did. All we have to do is clean it up.”
Added Arizona coach Mike Candrea: “They’re a good team, and you can’t give them four outs in an inning.
“It’s uncharacteristic of this team. We haven’t seen that all year.”
The Ducks scored two more in the top of the sixth, this time of their own volition on a Lindvall home run and a Koral Costa RBI single, and with pitcher Cheridan Hawkins dealing her usual nasty spin, that was more than enough.
Hawkins had nine strikeouts and just one walk while allowing six hits in her 29th win of the season.
The Wildcats did feel like they had their timing down with the Ducks ace, who ranks second in the conference in strikeouts.
“She did have a lot of spin — she wasn’t as fast as we thought — but if we just looked down in the zone, we had her,” Mauga said. “It didn’t play in our favor, but we can look forward to tomorrow and Saturday.”
While dealing with Oregon’s ace, the Wildcats were still dealing with the news that their own ace, Kenzi Fowler, would be lost for the rest of the season.
Arizona announced Wednesday that Fowler was discovered to have thoracic outlet syndrome in her left shoulder, cutting short a career that began with a brilliant freshman season after two Gatorade National Player of the Year awards at Canyon del Oro High.
“It was a sad moment,” Candrea said. “This kid has gone through so darn much to play this game here at Arizona, and I don’t think many people know what she’s had to go through to put on that uniform and try to be the pitcher she was at one time.”