When UA pitchers have had tremendous trouble keeping the ball in the park this season, coach Mike Candrea's refrain remained the same: The Arizona Wildcats can't catch the ball if it lands on the other side of the fence.
Saturday night, the Wildcats gave up two home runs in a 9-1, 6-inning loss to rival UCLA, but they couldn't play defense, either - even when the ball didn't leave the infield - and dropped to 2-6 in their last eight games.
In front of a season-high 2,627 fans at Hillenbrand Stadium, the Bruins took a 2-1 lead on Stephany LaRosa's third-inning home run.
UCLA wouldn't hit a ball into the outfield for another three innings, but still managed to score four more runs.
Arizona starting pitcher Shelby Babcock retired the two batters after LaRosa's homer before walking Mysha Sataraka and giving up an infield single to Brittany Moeai. Devon Lindvall then tried to bunt for a base hit.
Babcock fielded the ball routinely and threw to first - where first baseman Hallie Wilson and second baseman Chelsea Suitos weren't quite sure who was covering.
Wilson crouched to let the throw go to Suitos. She hadn't quite gotten to the bag.
Babcock's throw - accurate enough - sailed into the outfield, scoring Sataraka from second to give UCLA a 3-1 lead. She was charged with an error.
"It's executing the game, more than anything," Candrea said. "We have yet to execute the game on the mound and defensively and offensively in a while.
"That catches up to you in conference."
Babcock started the next inning by allowing a walk, an infield single and another walk to load the bases. She hit B.B. Bates in the right shoulder to plate UCLA's fourth run.
After a soft liner to shortstop earned the Wildcats their first out, Sataraka hit a one-hopper to shortstop Brigette Del Ponte.
The UA senior threw home to try to get the force - and the ball flew about 10 feet over catcher Chelsea Goodacre's head, allowing Alexis Bennett to score.
The ball bounced off the backstop and into the air.
Babcock recovered it and tried to beat LaRosa to home plate. However, the pitcher bumped into Goodacre, who had fallen to the ground after getting tangled with Bennett.
LaRosa scored all the way from second to put the Bruins (30-15, 7-11 Pac-12) ahead 6-1.
"Brigette makes that play a thousand times," Candrea said.
UCLA wouldn't hit a ball into the outfield until Bates led off the sixth with a single to center.
That was followed by an Ally Carda double and a Sataraka homer over the left-centerfield wall to give the Bruins a 9-1 lead and chase Babcock.
In five-plus innings, she allowed nine runs, six earned, on eight hits and five walks.
"The key is trying to keep your head on straight when things like that happen," Babcock said. "Just try to have short-term memory during it."
Candrea said, "When we get behind, we just start kinda hitting the panic button."
The Wildcats (28-19, 5-10) are indeed struggling.
They've have been outscored 39-4 in their past four losses: two at UCLA and two at home against the rival Bruins.
The UA has been a mercy-rule loser only 12 times since 1991 - but three have come in the team's last five games.
By losing six of their last eight, the Wildcats risk falling out of Tuesday's ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 for the first time in the poll's history.
Arizona was tied for No. 25 last week.
The team spent 20 minutes huddled in the outfield after Saturday's game, while Candrea gave an emotional talk.
"Whatever can go wrong has gone wrong for us," he said.
Some players left the meeting in tears.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do over my four years here," Del Ponte said.
"It's just a learning experience. There's nothing I can do about it except finish my career out on a happy note."
• Who: Arizona at Oregon State
• When: 3 p.m. Friday
Contact reporter Patrick Finley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley.