OKLAHOMA CITY — The Arizona Wildcats just by getting to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2010 washed away a lot of pain.
They took care of more of that pain Thursday, opening the Series with a 3-1 in eight innings against Washington.
The Wildcats had gone 0-6 against Washington in the past two years, outscored 20-10 and unable to find that timely hit to push them past the Huskies. Washington had complete control of the series between the two teams — or so it seemed.
Although Huskies pitcher Taran Alvelo started off on fire, striking out seven straight batters at one point, the Wildcats were able to finally figure her out, with Jessie Harper hitting a solo home run in the sixth and Dejah Mulipola slamming a two-run shot to center in the top of the eighth.
“The big thing is you have to be short,” coach Mike Candrea said of swinging against a power pitcher like Alvelo, who was throwing up to 72 mph. “You can’t match power with power.”
Candrea later talked about Malia Martinez’s at-bat that got everything going for the Wildcats. She went the opposite way to double off the wall in the fourth inning.
“I think it began with Malia Martinez hitting the ball to right field,” he said. “I think that kind of gave the rest of our hitters a little bit of a boost mentally.”
With the game having a feeling of a pitchers’ duel waiting for someone to blink first, Harper put the first run on the board with her 29th home run, sending a line drive over the right-center field wall.
After Washington tied the game at 1, the pressure was on for UA ace Taylor McQuillin to keep the Wildcats in the game. McQuillin talked about that pressure and how she kept it all together,
“Yeah, I think the key thing for me to reset in that game was the home run, the first pitch home run right after Jessie’s in that inning when Sami Reynolds came up. This is it, we’re in a game now, this is the big moment, we got to handle the pressure and take it and run with it.”
The star of the game was Mulipola, who had struggled most of the postseason with a batting average of .133 and seeming lost at the plate at times. Even at the start of this game, Mulipola was unable to come through with a hit, going 0-for-3.
That didn’t matter, though, when Mulipola blasted the ball over the center field wall, giving the Wildcats the 3-1 lead. As Mulipola rounded first, she threw her fist up into the air, erasing her postseason struggles at the plate.
“Actually, I didn’t think it was out,” Mulipola said of her homer. “When I tell that to everyone, they don’t believe me. That’s why I was so excited running around first base when it did go over.”
Mulipola tried to make adjustments to Alvelo.
“Facing Alvelo in my first couple at-bats, I knew she was throwing me (away). I was sitting on that. I think she understood I was sitting on that,” Mulipola said. “She started coming in the next few at-bats. I was trying to breathe, see a pitch. I happened to see one.”
The two-run home run led the Wildcats to victory. setting up a matchup with rival UCLA, which beat Minnesota on Thursday.
Arizona “lived in the moment” as most of the players said after the game. The question now is how long can they continue to find a way in the close high-leverage games.