Arizona’s hurting literally after losing its first Pac-12 series of the season with a 3-1 setback to No. 3 Washington on Saturday at Hillenbrand Stadium.
The physical pain is in the form of the team’s top hitter — second baseman Reyna Carranco — out indefinitely with a potential broken hand and two broken thumbs that she suffered when she was hit while swinging at a pitch from hard-throwing Taran Alvelo in the first inning.
Carranco entered the game as the Pac-12’s leading batter with a .436 average.
Alvelo is the same pitcher who struck Carranco in the face with a pitch last season at Washington, causing Carranco to suffer a concussion and broken nose.
“I’m not going to say anything about it other than it’s unfortunate,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said when asked about another devastating injury occurring with Carranco swinging against Alvelo. “We’ll have to see where (Carranco’s injury is) at right now. As of right now, it’s a broken hand and broken thumb. She got both (he then showed the media both thumbs).”
Wildcats awaiting to celebrate Rylee Pierce's solo shot to center field, tying this game at 1 with one out in the second. Pierce's 7th HR of season. pic.twitter.com/CPLPLAzVQG
Carranco might be lost for the rest of the season with only four regular season games left — Sunday against Washington and three games next week at No. 2 UCLA — before NCAA regional play starts in two weeks.
“She’ll be battling in our dugout; she’ll do what she can to help our team out,” said first baseman Rylee Pierce, who accounted for Arizona’s only run with a home run in the second inning.
“If that is saying some words of wisdom, something that she sees, that’s what she’ll do but she will be in there cheering for us until she can come back out.”
Hanah Bowen, a sophomore who was batting .182 with only 11 at-bats entering the game, is Carranco’s replacement at second base. Most of her experience has been in the circle, pitching 26 2/3 innings with a 3-0 record and 0.53 ERA. She has 26 strikeouts compared to only three walks.
In her three-at bats, she had one hit in the fifth to move Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza (who had singled) to second base with one out. Arizona squandered that opportunity with No. 3 batter Jessie Harper popping out and cleanup hitter Dejah Mulipalo striking out.
Arizona first baseman talks about the loss of Reyna Carranco, who apparently has two broken thumbs after getting hit while swinging against Washington's Taran Alvelo (who hit Carranco in the face last year, causing a concussion and broken nose). pic.twitter.com/LcZhOnA72L
“Hanah’s a grinder; she’ll make adjustments,” Candrea said. “She’ll make they play. She’s prepared but it’s tough to lose your leading hitter at a moment like this, so it stings me a little bit.
“But, you know what? You have to move on and continue to play.”
The mental anguish the Wildcats are experiencing is losing three of the last four games, including the first two games this weekend against Washington — each time with the go-ahead runner on base or at the plate when the game ended in the seventh inning.
After the 2-1 loss on Friday night, a game in which Arizona stranded nine runners, including five in scoring position, the players met briefly after Candrea talked with them to uphold the “standards” of the program, ace Taylor McQuillin said. She felt they were despondent after the loss.
Following Saturday’s loss, Candrea took longer than usual to talk to his team after the Wildcats left eight runners on base, making the total an incredible 43 over the last two weekends.
Unlike Friday, the Wildcats made mistakes on the field to go along with their lack of timely hitting. For instance, in the top of the first, Pierce fielded a high-hopping chopper about 10 feet from first base and neither pitcher Alyssa Denham or Carranco could cover in time to get the fast-charging Kaija Gibson.
Pierce froze momentarily. Meanwhile, Sami Reynolds (who doubled previously) kept running to home and Pierce reacted too late to throw to home plate.
“That was an unfortunate situation in the first. I didn’t feel unprepared. I didn’t make the play how I should,” said Pierce, who is playing in front of family and former Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine on senior weekend.
Earleywine, who helped Pierce transfer to Arizona after he felt he was unjustly fired at Missouri before last season, was dressed in Arizona garb.
Denham said Candrea had an encouraging discussion with the Wildcats in left field following the game.
“He said that we are one hit away from busting everything open and all it takes is one person to start the spark.”
Arizona starter Alyssa Denham mentioned that coach Mike Candrea's message after the game included the Wildcats being "one hit away" from turning this funk around (losing 3 of last 4 games). pic.twitter.com/k2YvEZ0XLh
Candrea talked about what he wants from his team in terms of its confidence and resolve.
“I told them, ‘Hell, we won a national championship with one hit. We scored a run on one hit,'” said Candrea, eluding to his 1993 team winning a national championship with only one hit (a line drive by Leah O’Brien against UCLA’s Lisa Fernandez) in a 1-0 victory.
“It’s not how many. It’s being able to fight every at-bat and put the ball in play, make the defense do some things. Hopefully, you find an opening and you can drive in a run at the right time. That’s the way softball is played at this level, especially when you have two good pitchers.”
Arizona softball looking to rekindle that championship tradition. pic.twitter.com/RTIlcmbamJ
Arizona is now 17-3 in the Pac-12 and 40-10 overall. Washington is a game behind at 16-4 and UCLA leads the conference with an 18-2 record.
The Wildcats are really one hit away from staying with UCLA at the top. After Nos. 8-9 hitters Peanut Martinez and Carli Campbell got on via singles to start the seventh, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza struck out, Bowen lined out to center field and Harper popped out to first in foul territory.
“At this stage, to win big ballgames, you have to be in control of your emotions, you have to be in control of your self-talk, your confidence … I mean, all those things allow you to keep the game slow,” he said. “Too many times when your emotions get high, your emotions take over, the game gets quick on you.
“It’s a learning process. You would think that they’ve been through enough games that they understand that, but we’ve kind of seen a bit of a downfall this weekend. It’s something we’re going to have to fix, something we’ll have to work on because that will be a big key for us moving forward.”
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.