Arizona’s four home runs were more than the runs starter Hanah Bowen allowed Illinois in the Wildcats’ 8-3 win Friday in the opening round of the Missouri Regional of the NCAA tournament.
First-year coach Caitlin Lowe earned her first career NCAA tournament victory.
“I didn’t think about that at all honestly,” she said. “I just know the players worked their tails off so hard to seize the moment.”
The Wildcats (34-20) will play No. 15 Missouri (37-20) on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Tucson time in a winners bracket game. Missouri beat Missouri State 3-1 in the other opening-round game Friday.
Missouri has a 15-7 record at home and Arizona is 6-8 in road games this season.
Sharlize Palacios, Allie Skaggs, Izzy Pacho and Blaise Biringer each hit home runs against Illinois as part of their 12-hit attack. The four players each also had two hits in the game, as did Carlie Scupin.
Bowen pitched a complete game after settling down following Illinois’ rally in the first to take a 2-0 lead.
She gave up three hits in that inning, including a two-run double to Kelly Ryono, but scattered seven hits over the next six innings.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s lineup started to take over in the second inning with Pacho’s solo home run, and in the third with Palacios’ two-run shot and Skaggs’ homer.
Biringer’s home run and Carlie Scupin’s RBI single were part of a four-run fifth inning that built Arizona’s lead to 8-2.
“It was a really good feeling,” Palacios said of the home run barrage. “It was not like we were behind and waiting for that big hit to break through. I think it’s just doing the job.”
Pacho and Skaggs (Ironwood Ridge), Biringer (Cienega) and Scupin (Tucson High) all graduated from Southern Arizona high schools.
Bowen (11-10) finished allowing 10 hits with eight strikeouts and one walk.
Ilinois rallied for a run with one out in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI single by Ryono but Bowen was aided by a pickoff of a runner at third base and by a pop out to end the game.
Skaggs increased her team-leading home run total to 23 with 57 RBIs. Palacios now has 18 home runs and a team-best 58 RBIs.
Pacho reached her 10th home run and Biringer hit her second of the season.
A victory over Missouri on Saturday would put Arizona in the region championship round Sunday at 1 p.m. Tucson time.
A loss against the host Tigers on Saturday would require the Wildcats to play an elimination game against either Missouri State or Illinois later in the day at 4:30 p.m.
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.