The Arizona Wildcats softball team put the nerves of coach Mike Candrea and their fans to the test Saturday afternoon, but they survived a wild LSU rally in the seventh to advance to the title game of the regional with a 9-8 win at Hillenbrand Stadium.
The Wildcats (43-13) will have a rematch with LSU in the championship round of the regional Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Hillenbrand. LSU eliminated Boston University in the loser’s bracket to set up the rematch. One win gets Arizona into the Super Regional. If the Wildcats (the No. 11 seed) lose to LSU, the teams will play the final game at approximately 4.
The Wildcats’ victory over LSU on Saturday ended dramatically after the Tigers rallied for three runs in the seventh with one out.
"That double play was sweet." – Winning pitcher Estela Pinon.
The game finished on an rare 5-3-6 double play starting with Arizona third baseman Lauren Young fielding a grounder hit by second baseman Allison Falcon. Young looked first baseman Sandra Simmons back toward second before throwing off-target to first baseman Hallie Wilson, who made the difficult catch off the base and tagged Falcon behind her back.
Wilson, who had two home runs in the game, turned and saw Falcon trying to advance to third base. Wilson threw to shortstop Kellie Fox, who was covering third base, for the final out. The play was not close as Falcon tried to sprawl out of the way of Fox’s tag.
“LSU just kept throwing the punches, and we kept responding,” Candrea said. “The way we respond, as a team, is what got us here.”
Louisiana-Lafayette, the No. 6 seed, is also 2-0 in its regional that is opposite of the one at Arizona. If the Ragin’ Cajuns win that regional, they will host the Wildcats next weekend.
Wilson, a junior, went 3-for-4 with six RBIs and two runs. One of her home runs was an inside-the-park homer with two outs in the second inning that gave Arizona a 3-0 lead. Kelsey Rodriguez followed with another home run off LSU pitcher Baylee Corbello.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit at the plate, but today, I felt as though I got my groove back,” said Wilson, who was 1-for-4 without an RBI in Arizona’s 9-6 win over Boston on Friday night.
Arizona pitcher Estela Piñon ran into problems in the third inning as LSU scored four runs off two home runs to tie the game. Bianka Bell, a shortstop, hit a three-run homer, capping the rally after third baseman Tammy Wray started the inning with a homer.
Wilson again produced a three-run home run as part of Arizona’s five-run fifth inning. Fox had an RBI double and catcher Chelsea Goodacre a run-producing single in the inning to put Arizona ahead 9-5.
LSU’s seventh-inning rally had an ominous start for Piñon as the Tigers (36-23) loaded the bases with no outs and managed to score two runs on a groundout to shortstop. Wilson’s throw from first base to home plate was too late to get pinch-runner Alex Boulet, who scored from second base on the infield groundout.
Simmons then doubled off Piñon, scoring Bell from second to cut the lead to 9-8. On a 1-0 count, Piñon got Falcon to ground into the wild 5-3-6 double play to end the game. Piñon, who threw 121 pitches, allowed eight hits with four strikeouts and four walks in her seven innings of work. She also hit two batters with pitches.
Piñon (19-7) will go for her 20th win in the 1:30 title game Sunday.
“I’m just focusing on rest, lots of water, stretching, ice cold baths and just trying to stay healthy for our next task ahead,” Piñon said.