OKLAHOMA CITY — Saturday night started off fine for Alyssa Denham, getting through two innings without allowing anyone to reach base. She got a quick out on Alabama’s Merris Schroder in the third.
And, then, trouble.
Denham walked the eight-hole hitter. That’s when things started to go south in the inning as Denham seemed to lose control of the strike-zone. She went on to walk another batter, this time with two outs and Alabama slugger Bailey Hemphill up to bat.
Hemphill, on an 0-1 pitch, smashed a double to left-center field, scoring both runners.
That proved to be the deciding blow as Arizona found itself unable to manufacture any runs against freshman ace Montana Fouts. There were opportunities to be had, the Wildcats just couldn’t get that one hit to make the difference.
“It’s a game of inches. We could be sitting here talking about Hanah (Bowen) getting the base hit into right field and driving in two runs (with the bases loaded). That’s kind of the way the ball bounces sometimes.” said coach Mike Candrea.
When you look back on the season you have to remember the six seniors on the team. Especially the ones that didn’t get the major playing time, as Candrea made it a point to mention their dedication to the program.
“If I look at my senior class, the one thing that I’m probably most proud of is not the seniors that were on the field but the seniors that weren’t on the field,” he said. “To be able to buy into what we want and to continue to be bought in when you’re not playing all the time is a very difficult thing.”
One senior didn’t spend nearly the amount of time at Arizona that the others did — senior first baseman Rylee Pierce, who played just one year with the program. Pierce was a transfer from Missouri, where she was a second-team All-SEC player. The numbers weren’t necessarily there for Pierce, but she made more of an impact then what the numbers show on the stat sheet.
“Absolutely remarkable young lady. I mean, to come into a program your senior year, she kind of walked in and just seamlessly fit in with everyone.” said Candrea.
He went on to talk about what lies ahead for Pierce with the Arizona program.
“She will be continuing her degree and working with us next year. She wants to get into coaching,” he said. “That’s kind of part of my job, too, make sure we take care of them after softball is over with.”
With the loss the season comes to an end filled with memories and moments that will last a lifetime not only for the players, for Candrea as well.
“To be honest with you, this was probably one of the most fun years that I’ve had coaching softball,” he said.
There will be many questions that need to be answered about next year’s team. But Pierce and the rest of the senior class had an enormous impact on the state of Arizona softball. This class ended the drought of not reaching Oklahoma City, accomplishing their goal of putting Arizona softball back into the national spotlight.