Decided underdog Harvard of the Ivy League did not make it easy for Pac-12 power Arizona with the No. 6 seeded Wildcats escaping with a 5-1 win at Hillenbrand Stadium on Friday night.
Arizona (43-12) will play Auburn (38-19) in a winners bracket game Saturday at Hillenbrand at 3 p.m. Harvard (25-18) will face Colorado State (38-11) in an elimination game at 5:30 p.m.
The Wildcats had an inauspicious start against Harvard with Erin Lockhart hitting a home run with one out in the first inning off Arizona ace Taylor McQuillin, who did not allow another hit in the game.
McQuillin (21-7) struck out eight and walked four in seven innings in her 23rd complete-game of the season.
“To me, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The most important thing was to come out strong, trust my defense,” said McQuillin, who threw 116 pitches. “Obviously, the first couple of innings were a bit rough. Couldn’t really find the zone, had some walks, had some hard hits …
“I knew it was a matter of time. My team always has my back and it really shows. It’s a lot when our backs are up against the wall.”
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Arizona tied the game in the fourth on an RBI single by No. 8 hitter Peanut Martinez. The hit plated Rylee Pierce, who led off the inning with a walk, one of the rare mistakes by Harvard starter Katie Duncan until Arizona rallied for four runs to get some separation in the sixth.
Before that rally, Duncan used the defense behind her, inducing 13 groundouts while allowing seven hits with one strikeout and one walk. Arizona left seven runners on base at that point.
The Wildcats had four run-producing singles in the sixth by Martinez, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Malia Martinez and Rylee Pierce.
Peanut Martinez, the No. 8 hitter, went 2 for 3 with 2 RBIs. Dejah Mulipola had three hits and Palomino-Cardoza, Malia Martinez and Hanah Bowen each had two hits. Bowen’s double with one out started the game-winning rally in the sixth.
The last time Arizona faced Auburn in the postseason was in the 2016 Super Regional at Auburn. The Wildcats won the first game but were eliminated from going to the Women’s College World Series by losing consecutive games to the Tigers.
“They’re a good team,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said of the Tigers, “but right now, I’m more concerned about Arizona. I haven’t had much time to think about all of it.”
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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.