Arizona Softball

Arizona reaches “light at end of the tunnel,” heads to Oklahoma City for its 25th WCWS

Arizona’s Sharlize Palacios, who had a two-run single as part of the Wildcats’ seven-run fourth inning in a 7-1 win at Mississippi State on Saturday, celebrates her team advancing out of the Starkville Super Regional to the College World Series in Oklahoma City (Arizona Athletics photo)

The more things change for Arizona softball — and my have they changed — the more the dominance remains.

For the 25th time in program history, the Wildcats are returning to the Women’s College World Series, this time under first-year coach Caitlin Lowe — the legendary centerfielder during Mike Candrea’s championship runs in 2006 and 2007.

“Just always knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel because we knew how good we were,” said Lowe, reflecting on a meeting in March with captain Sharlize Palacios who was struggling at the plate in the midst of the team’s 0-8 start in the Pac-12.

“We were at practice, and not a lot of people saw it. We had to choose each other and believe that we were gonna get it done. It was the 18 of us, plus staff, but we figured out a way and I think that’s what makes me the most proud, is that they didn’t give up on each other.”

This is also the third consecutive time Arizona has advanced to the WCWS (2019, 2021 and this year — it was canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19).

Arizona defeated Mississippi State 7-1 on Saturday to sweep the Starkville Regional in two games and advance to Oklahoma City on Thursday. The Wildcats (37-20) have won all five of their games in the postseason.

The success is in stark contrast to the Wildcats struggling with their worst start in Pac-12 history and finishing with the fewest amount of wins in a conference season with an 8-16 record.

“She really led us and never let us lose hope,” Carlie Scupin, a former Tucson High standout, said of Lowe. “I guess we could say we had to really stay focused throughout that time and it was really tough for all of us. I think that she was definitely our leader during that time and she taught us a lot. I think it’s paying off now.”

Devyn Netz (15-7) took the circle for Arizona after Hanah Bowen’s complete-game performance in a 3-2 eight-inning win Friday against the Bulldogs (37-27), who played in their first Super Regional after upsetting No. 2 Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional last week.

Netz pitched her second consecutive complete game of the postseason after beating Missouri 1-0 last weekend in the Columbia (Mo.) Regional. She had only one complete game during the regular season at Utah on April 23 in an 8-0 win.

Netz allowed five hits against Mississippi State with three walks and two strikeouts. The Bulldogs had four hits off her in the first three innings but had only two thereafter.

“At first, I felt a little shaky and kind of let the crowd get to me,” Netz said. “I had to focus on Shar (Palacio, the catcher) and focus on my teammates. At first, it was a little hard, but once I got through the first four innings, my team picked me up. It was super helpful.

“I kind of knew that I had them and they had me.”

Arizona looked like it could have taken a lead in the first inning when it appeared Allie Skaggs hit a home run beyond the left field wall along the line. The umpires ruled it a foul much to the ire of third-base coach Lauren Lippin, who argued vehemently.

Mississippi State wound up scoring the first run of the game in the second inning after Addison Purvis singled and moved to second base on a fielding error by right fielder Paige Dimler — Arizona’s first error of the postseason (a 30-inning span).

After Netz struck out Matalasi Faapito, Madisyn Kennedy hit a single that scored Allison Florian (pinch-running for Purvis) to give Mississippi State a 1-0 lead. The inning ended on a double play — one of three double plays turned by Arizona’s infield in the game.

“It makes me have less pitches and lets them show off their skills, what they’ve been working on all year,” Netz said of the double plays. “We have a phenomenal defense and I was so proud of them for stepping up and coming through. Not only does it help me but it helps them get to the plate and knock in some runs.”

Arizona had only two hits through the first three innings against starter Aspen Wesley (9-9) before Scupin uncorked the Wildcats with a two-run home run with one out in the fourth inning. The home run, Scupin’s 19th of the season, occurred after Izzy Pacho walked and was replaced by pinch-runner Amber Toven.

Scupin’s blast started the avalanche of seven runs overall in the fourth inning.

“I think we definitely came in today knowing we didn’t want to go to a Game Three (in the Super Regional),” Scupin said. “We definitely wanted to get this win and make our statement. I think Devyn really set the tone for us.

“She had their offense down and she gave us the opportunity to really get in the box and score our runs that we needed. We knew she was going to keep us in the game so it lets us be comfortable at the plate.”

After Scupin’s home run, the bases became loaded when Dimler was hit by a pitch, Blaise Biringer singled and Sophia Carroll reached on a fielder’s choice throwing error to third in attempt to get Dimler. Bailey Thompson followed with a walk, forcing in Dimler to increase the lead to 3-1.

Janelle Meoño then hit a slow roller toward third baseman Paige Cook, who errantly flipped the ball from her glove to catcher Mia Davidson at the plate. The ball went past Davidson allowing two more runs to score to give Arizona a 5-1 lead.

Palacios followed with a single that scored two more runs.

“I thought we just gave them too many chances,” Mississippi State coach Samantha Ricketts said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball, catching and throwing … just overall. Give credit to them. They came out attacking and they capitalized when they were given the opportunity.

“You want to limit a big inning and seven runs is just really tough to come back from.”

Netz and Arizona’s defense took over from there. Starting in the second inning after Kennedy’s single, they did not allow a Mississippi State runner to advance to second base — a span of 19 batters. Three times in that stretch Arizona turned its double plays.

The one constant in the five postseason games won against Illinois, Missouri and Mississippi State is Bowen and Netz achieving complete-game victories. They had only two combined complete-game wins during the regular season.

They have pitched a combined 36 innings in the postseason, allowing 28 hits and six runs (all earned) with 14 walks and 23 strikeouts. They are 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA.

“You know what I noticed today was Bow giving feedback to the offense and everybody was into it,” Lowe said. “Everybody was in every pitch, doing their part. She didn’t even have the ball in her hand and she was trying to help in any way she could.

“I think that’s been the story of the last couple weeks is everyone doing their part and being invested in every single pitch. They (Bowen and Netz) might have felt nervous in the beginning, but they’re tough. They’re tough and they realize they’ve got a great defense behind them.”

Now it’s on to Oklahoma City with the WCWS starting Thursday with the pairings to be determined.

Lowe said Arizona will go directly to Oklahoma City from Starkville. The Wildcats spent a considerable amount of time at Columbia (Mo.) and Starkville before winning the regional and Super Regional, respectively.

She added that the team may stay in Starkville until Monday before heading to Oklahoma City ahead of Wednesday’s practice and press conferences.

“We’re not going home (to Tucson), sorry,” Lowe told the media with a laugh.

No apology needed.

What a journey it has been to Oklahoma City.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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.

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