Estela Piñon wielded a double-edged sword for Arizona on Friday night against Utah.
One side was sharp and piercing, zoned in and locating with the precision of a diamond cutter. Nearly unhittable.
The other side: dull, ineffective, wild.
The good side — the one that started the game with 17 strikes in the first 20 pitches — won out in a 7-1 victory over the Utes at Hillenbrand Stadium.
Piñon allowed just one run and one hit in six innings. Here comes that other side again — the one run came in the third on a pair of walks and a Piñon throwing error.
But by then, the Wildcats had already spotted her a 5-1 lead, and Piñon went on to allow just that one hit in her 14th win of the season, to go along with five strikeouts and seven walks before Kenzie Fowler pitched a scoreless seventh.
“I’m not very happy with my ball — no pitcher is happy with walks,” Piñon said. “Overall, I felt pretty good, but once again, I wish I didn’t have that many. In the long run, walks can really not be good.”
Playing with a little extra juice in senior Alex Lavine’s return to the starting lineup for the first time since suffering a torn ACL on March 4, Arizona jumped out to an early lead.
And that is despite a first-inning double play that looked like it could stem the tide. The Wildcats piled up four first-inning hits, and a Chelsea Goodacre double and Katiyana Mauga single scored runs.
“It’s huge, it really helps our pitchers when we get up like that,” Goodacre said. “It gives them a little insurance, knowing we have their backs, knowing we can score five more runs if we needed to. It sets a standard from the get-go.”
Two days after the Pac-12’s most prodigious lineup smacked nine home runs in a doubleheader sweep of visiting New Mexico State, the offense turned a bit crafty on Friday.
Arizona again pounced on Utah in the second inning, as Courtney Rodriguez and Lavine singled to open the frame. After a wild pitch advanced the runners and a Hallie Wilson groundout, Kelsey Rodriguez doubled down the left-field line, scoring Courtney Rodriguez and Lavine.
Three batters later, Mauga again delivered with an RBI single to put Arizona ahead 5-0 early.
“It was nice for us to go up early, but then in the middle of the game, their off-speed pitch was handcuffing our hitters,” said UA coach Mike Candrea.
“We can make that adjustment, we know how to do it, it’s just a matter of doing it.”
It didn’t take too long to adjust, and when Goodacre did, she nearly sent the crowd into hysterics.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Goodacre sent a Sammy Cordova offering over the right field fence.
The ball landed on the Gittings Gym roof. Candrea called it the farthest home run he’s ever seen at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“The biggest thing is, we get energy out of it,” Goodacre said. “Our dugout picked up a little bit. Even on defense, it’s like let’s go and get the energy up.”
Goodacre said she’s landed a shot on the Gittings’ roof before, in an exhibition during the offseason and multiple times during practice.
The shot — outside the park and into the arm — came at just the right time as Arizona had a sobering moment in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Lavine came up limping after running out a foul ball, and had to exit the game.
The injury, likely a hamstring strain, was unrelated to her knee injury.
But the home run was certainly a pick-me-up for the Wildcats, as if they needed one, after that hot start.
“We came out and did what we needed to do early in the game, which kind of set the tone a little bit,” Candrea said. “You walk out here and the wind is blowing and you’re thinking, ‘here we go again.’ ”
There was only one smash on Friday, but it was a big one.