Tucson is no stranger to dry spells, but on Saturday a nine-year drought came to an end.
For the first time since 2010, Arizona will head to the Women’s College World Series after defeating Ole Miss 9-1 to sweep the Tucson Super Regional at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“Well, we got it done — that’s it,” coach Mike Candrea said. “We get to play next week, which is our goal every year. And I’m just very happy for this team.”
Bracket play begins Thursday in Oklahoma City and the championship best-of-three series is set to start June 3. UA gets No. 3 Washington in the first round of the double-elimination event. The Huskies swept Arizona at Hillenbrand from May 3-5.
After an 0-for-3 performance in Game 1 of the Super Regional, Dejah Mulipola belted a leadoff home run Saturday over the right field fence in the second inning to put Arizona on the board first.
Ole Miss threatened to erase the lead right away.
The Rebels hit three consecutive singles to load the bases with no outs in the bottom frame, playing as the home team after UA played host Friday. After a quick talk with pitching coach and former Rebels assistant Taryne Mowatt, Arizona starting pitcher Alyssa Denham struck out the next two batters and induced a ground out to ease out of the jam unscathed.
“I think that was one of the best feelings that I’ve ever felt,” Denham said. “You’ve just got to dig deep and bear down.”
Ole Miss would tie the game on Autumn Gillespie's solo homer in the third inning.
The Wildcats' struggle to find their bats in the early innings continued. It wasn’t until the fourth inning that Arizona started to pull away.
A single to left field from Reyna Carranco scored Malia Martinez, who reached base on a single of her own to start the inning. Then a single from Hanah Bowen — and an error in left field from Ole Miss — allowed two more runs to score.
“That was a key turning point of the game, when she lost the ball in the sun and we ended up scoring three runs that inning,” Candrea said of the error.
Arizona extended its lead to 5-1 in the fifth on a solo homer from Martinez, but Ole Miss applied more pressure.
The designated home team drew two walks and advanced to second and third base on an ensuing groundout. Gillespie reached base on a fielder’s choice, but Jessie Harper threw home to Mulipola for the second out as pinch runner Kelsha Loftin attempted to score.
With runners on the corners, Denham followed with her fourth and final strikeout to end the inning with the four-run lead intact.
Then Harper stole the spotlight.
The shortstop got all three groundouts in the bottom of the sixth inning, the last a running snag up the middle.
“I take no credit for any of it,” Denham said. “It was literally all of the defense and the bats.”
Denham (13-5) logged her second complete game in as many starts this postseason after allowing two walks and six hits.
The Wildcats added insurance in the seventh on a two-run homer into center field from Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, and an RBI single from Rylee Pierce. An infield error from Ole Miss later allowed Carranco to reach first as Mulipola came in for the final score.
The Rebels were able to get a double play to end the frame and stop the bleeding, but weren’t able to convert any runs. Ole Miss managed their first hit since the third-inning homer, but left the runner stranded.
After the game, Candrea wouldn’t quite say his team has peaked going into the WCWS. But the Wildcats are getting the job done.
“I’m saying right now, our team is playing well — we’re playing well as a team,” Candrea said. “I know what it takes in Oklahoma City. It’s a grind — every pitch, every at bat. You can’t worry about what happened.”
• Hillenbrand Stadium saw its second largest postseason audience Saturday (and 17th largest overall) with 2,835 people in attendance. The Game 2 crowd was more than 100 people bigger than Friday’s attendance of 2,729.