Arizona closes out Notre Dame with an 8-3 victory at an NCAA regional and will advance to play at Oklahoma next week for a best-of-three series in an NCAA Super Regional.
The Sooners, featuring ace pitcher Keilani Ricketts and a power-hitting lineup with super freshman Lauren Chamberlain, are seeded fourth overall in the NCAA tournament. They are no strangers to the Wildcats, who fell to visiting OU in the Super Regional round last season.
Arizona (38-17) swept through the Tucson regional at Hillenbrand Stadium, beating North Dakota State and Notre Dame twice.
* * *
More insurance: Jessica Spigner follows Chelsea Goodacre’s homer with a shot to center field for an 8-3 lead.
* * *
Insurance: Chelsea Goodacre launches her second home run of the game, a solo shot, with one out in the seventh. That gives the Cats a 7-3 lead.
* * *
On to the seventh. Shelby Babcock works around a one-out double in the sixth, and the Wildcats carry a 6-3 lead, needing only three more outs.
* * *
Arizona quickly turns around momentum with a pair of home runs to lead off the fifth inning — a blast from Shelby Pendley (her team-high 19th of the season) and another from Chelsea Goodacre, her seventh. Coach Mike Candrea this week said Pendley has a chance to be about as good as anybody he’s ever had at shortstop — which is saying A LOT.
Arizona gets the lead to 6-3.
* * *
Strange play in the bottom of the fourth. With a runner on first, second baseman Kristen Arriola fielded a line drive on a short hop, with base runner Emilee Koerner headed back to first, anticipating a line out. When the ball bounced, Arriola had an easy force out at second, and then the throw back from shortstop Shelby Pendley hit Koerner.
The trio of umpires met to discuss the play, with the coaches involved, and then called interference on the runner, which means the batter, Katey Haus (who would have been easily safe otherwise) was called out by rule. (Koerner didn’t appear to be out of the baseline, but the umps must have thought so.)
A big call?
You bet, because Notre Dame followed with a single and a two-run homer from Chloe Saganowich, whose high fly ball landed just inside the left-field foul pole.
It’s now Arizona 4, Notre Dame 3.
* * *
Oklahoma has won its regional, so the winner in Tucson will be headed to Norman next week for a best-of-three Super Regional.
* * *
Notre Dame gets one back in the bottom of the third, but it could have been worse for Arizona after the Irish opened the inning with a double and a single. Chloe Saganowich scored on a sacrifice play.
The key defensive play came with runners on first and third and one out. Amy Buntin hit a grounder to shortstop Shelby Pendley, who had an easy out at second base or first base. Instead, she fired home to catcher Lini Koria as Jenna Simon tried to slide around her.
Koria wasn’t able to make the tag, but Simon couldn’t reach the plate and over-slid home. Koria looked to the ump, who hadn’t made a call, ans she realized it was still a live play. Koria then tagged out Simon, who was trying to scrambling back to the plate.
Arizona pitcher Shelby Babcock then got a fly out from Dani Miller to end the inning.
UA leads 4-1.
* * *
Sometimes, softball is like this: Arizona hit almost nothing hard in the second inning, but had six consecutive hits with two outs and scored four runs. In the third, the Wildcats rocketed three shots all over the field, but lined out to right, center and shortstop in a 1-2-3 inning.
* * *
A huge two-out rally gives Arizona the lead in the top of the second inning.
Jessica Spigner got things going with a walk, and Kristen Arriola managed to place a grounder between third base and shortstop to move Spigner to second. Likewise, Chelsea Suitos didn’t hit the ball hard, but she managed a single through the circle and into shallow center field.
The throw home from Alexa Maldonado was high, and Spigner scored on a head-first slide to the plate.
An infield hit from Karissa Buchanan loaded the bases and Hallie Wilson fought off an inside pitch and blooped it onto the outfield grass behind second base, scoring two.
The hitting just kept coming, with Brigette Del Ponte driving in another with a single to left to make it 4-0.
Catcher Lini Koria got in on the action, beating out a grounder deep into the hole at shortstop, loading the bases. The very fine rally ended there, with shortstop Shelby Pendley flying out to center, making her second out of the inning.
* * *
The winner of this regional advances to next weekend’s Super Regional … and it’s now almost certain that Super Regional will be hosted by Oklahoma. The Sooners, seeded fourth overall in the NCAA tournament, are up 5-0 on Oregon today, just a couple of innings away from closing the championship of their regional.
* * *
Arizona is the designated visiting team and will be facing Notre Dame starter Laura Winter. She allowed five hits and three runs in three innings, striking out two and walking one.
* * *
Back at Hillenbrand Stadium for the championship game (or games, perhaps) of the Tucson regional in the softball postseason.
It will be Arizona vs. Notre Dame, a rematch of Saturday’s winners’ bracket game, won by the Wildcats 7-2. The Irish bounced back to defeat North Dakota State on Saturday night to make it to today.
UA is 2-0 in the double-elimination tournament, so it has some margin of error. If the Irish win the first game today, the teams will play again.
As expected, sophomore Shelby Babcock, who pitched a perfect inning of relief on Saturday, will get the start for the Wildcats.