Leles’ bat powers UA to comeback victory
Jenae Leles isn’t bringing much to the plate right now. “Just a clear mind,” she said.
Thinking softly and carrying a big stick, Leles powered the Arizona offense to a 3-1 victory over Oklahoma in the blustery first game of a super regional at Hillenbrand Stadium on Friday night.
Her RBI single in the bottom of the first tied the game and erased the Sooners’ momentum, and her home run in the fifth gave UA a 2-1 lead.
Brittany Lastrapes coaxed an opposite-field shot over the wall in the sixth for a little more margin of error, not that UA ace Taryne Mowatt needed it.
She retired the final 11 batters, finishing with a two-hitter. Mowatt struck out 13 and walked one after allowing a long home run to Amber Flores to lead off the game.
“I was a little worried after the first batter,” UA interim head coach Larry Ray said. “Taryne kind of beared down.”
The teams meet Saturday in the second game of the best-of-three series at 11:30 a.m. A third game, if necessary, will follow.
An Arizona victory would send the Wildcats to their 20th Women’s College Series in the past 21 seasons.
Leles, a junior third baseman, has been part of the power surge this season for the Wildcats, who lead the nation with 1.6 home runs per game.
Leles, Stacie Chambers and Laine Roth each have 15 homers. Callista Balko has 14.
Leles has gone from hitting .219 with seven home runs as a freshman, to hitting .265 with 10 homers as a sophomore, to hitting .348 this season.
“I understand the pressures of the game now, and that it’s important to not hold everything on your shoulders and think you have to do everything by yourself,” Leles said. “As a freshman, I felt like I had to do everything.
“But when I’m up at the plate, I don’t think about anything but my pitch that I want to hit. And if it isn’t there, I won’t swing. Yeah, a clear mind.”
Leles smoked a single to the wall in the first, sharply hit a ball down the left-field line caught by Haley Anderson, hit a big homer and crushed one of the longest foul balls ever seen at Hillenbrand.
“Offensively, she is, by far, our most lethal player,” Ray said.
“Boy, she is just hitting everything on the nose right now. She almost knocked over a second baseman in New York (at last week’s regional). The ball had one hop and just about knocked the kid into right field.”
Despite Leles’ big bat, it was mostly a frustrating night at the plate for the Wildcats. They left 10 runners on base through the first five innings.
Meanwhile, Mowatt (28-12) was in control, using her signature change-up to keep the big-swinging Sooners off balance.
“Taryne had a great game, as expected in the postseason,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. “We knew that was coming. We have to make some adjustments.”
Mowatt did have to work out of a trouble on more than one occasion, thanks in part to errors in the second and fourth innings.
But the only hit she allowed in the final 25 batters was an infield single.
The key defensive play was a running catch against the wall by right fielder Adrienne Acton in the fifth. That was a case of the wind – sometimes gusting to 30 mph – helping keep the ball in the park.
“That was the game-changing play in my mind,” Mowatt said.
Arizona had six hits off Oklahoma ace D.J. Mathis, who pitched five innings, striking out two and walking seven. She fell to 30-6.
“The best thing is, nobody on our team let down,” Mowatt said about giving up leadoff home run.
“It definitely gave them some momentum, but after we scored our run, they kind of deflated.”
ASU tops Northwestern
TEMPE – Arizona State ace Katie Burkhart struck out 16, allowed just two hits and walked none in a 3-1 win over Northwestern in the first game of a best-of-three NCAA super regional at Farrington Stadium.
Burkhart struck out the side in the first two innings, and 10 of the first 12 outs were by strikeout. In one stretch, she struck out eight in a row swinging.
The Arizona Republic
Oklahoma at Arizona
Saturday: 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. (if necessary)
Where: Hillenbrand Stadium
TV: ESPN. Radio: 1400 AM