Arizona will face fellow unseeded team Texas in the Women’s College World Series with the teams meeting in an elimination-bracket game Sunday at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
The matchup became set when Texas (44-20-1) lost to No. 1 Oklahoma 7-2 on Saturday. Arizona (39-21) stayed alive in the elimination bracket with a 3-1 win over Oregon State on Friday night.
The programs have a lot of familiarity, including former Arizona outfielder Bella Dayton now with the Longhorns after transferring to Texas following last season. Dayton, who is from Wylie, Texas, returned closer to home to play for Texas coach Mike White, who coached against Arizona at Oregon from 2010 to 2018 and took the Ducks to five WCWS.
“I do have a lot of respect for them, and I love seeing my old teammates because I was super close with them,” Dayton said in the press conference after the loss to Oklahoma. “But, you know, I’m excited to play with the team I’m on now and I know they have my back with everything that we do. And we’re just pumped to keep moving forward.”
— Arizona Athletics (@AZATHLETICS) June 4, 2022
White has coached the Longhorns to the WCWS for the first time in his four years at Austin. This will be his first coaching matchup with Caitlin Lowe after going against Mike Candrea for nine years in the Pac-12 while with Oregon.
“I don’t think anybody wants to take over from Mr. GOAT,” White said with a laugh, referencing Lowe replacing Candrea (considered the Greatest softball coach Of All Time, hence the GOAT reference). “It’s a pretty tough job. Obviously they had a struggle, (losing) their first eight (games) in the Pac-12. To be able to come back and rally your troops — I know what it’s like, we had to do the same thing — it’s difficult because everyone starts to doubt and it’s hard to keep that confidence going in not only yourself but your team and know you’re going in the right direction. She’s been able to turn it around. Hats off to her for doing what she’s done so far.”
Texas endured a six-game losing streak this season and went through a 2-5 stretch losing two of three against Oklahoma and being swept in three games at Oklahoma State.
Dayton, the Longhorns’ starting centerfielder, bats No. 9 in the order. She is hitting .260 with five home runs and 22 RBIs. Last year at Arizona as a freshman, Dayton played in 44 games and started 22 of them mostly in right field. She batted .221 in 68 at-bats.
When asked about what it was like to play for Lowe when Lowe was an assistant last year, Dayton said, “It was great to be coached by her. She was a well-known player and a well-known coach. Respect to her for making it this far for her first year as head coach. That’s pretty much it.”
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White said Arizona is “on a roll right now” going 6-1 in the postseason with the lone loss a close 4-2 setback to Oklahoma State in the opening round of the WCWS.
“We’re pretty hot but they’ve been pretty hot as well,” said White, whose team advanced to the WCWS out of the Seattle Regional beating Washington and then the Fayetteville Regional defeating Arkansas.
“The pitchers are doing their job; they’ve got a couple of good ones (Hanah Bowen and Devyn Netz) that are spinning it out. They’ve got some power and speed and probably more power than I’ve seen throughout the lineup. Typically they have a lot of speed and some power, but they’ve got more power throughout the lineup. We’re gonna have a tough game about us. It’s going to be an exciting one, I’m pretty sure.”
Arizona has belted 96 home runs, 10 in the postseason. Five players have at least 10 home runs — Allie Skaggs (24), Sharlize Palacios (20), Carlie Scupin (19), Izzy Pacho (11) and Paige Dimler (10).
The 3-1 win over Oregon State on Friday night was the first time in the postseason that Arizona did not have a home run that generated its run production.
Texas, by contrast, has only one player with double-digit home runs — Mary Iokopa with 11.
The Longhorns do have 94 stolen bases, led by Mia Scott’s 24 — which is more than the 23 Arizona has a team.
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Iokopa is a former Oregon standout who also leads Texas with 56 RBIs. While putting together an eight-game hitting streak as a freshman with Oregon in 2018, she matched her career-high production with four hits and three RBIs in a game against the Wildcats.
Texas also has former Oregon utlity player Lauren Burke, who transferred to Texas as well after the 2018 season when White was hired by the Longhorns.
— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) June 4, 2022
In Texas’ 7-2 loss to Oklahoma Saturday, senior Janae Jefferson hit her third home run of the postseason after hitting only four during the regular season. Jefferson leads the Longhorns batting .421 with 34 RBIs.
The Longhorns have six players who have produced at least 30 RBIs.
Hailey Dolcini, a former UC Riverside and Fresno State pitcher, has thrown the bulk of the innings (206 1/3 innings) for Texas this season. She is 23-11 with a 2.31 ERA. With Texas facing elimination, expect White to go with Dolcini in the circle against the Wildcats, who will most likely start Bowen (14-11, 3.69) who won the game against Oregon State in two hitless innings of relief.
Netz (15-7, 3.42) is another viable option.
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Arizona has a 16-7 record against Texas with the series dating to 1997.
The last time the programs met was in 2018 when Arizona won two of three games in a regular-season series at Austin, Texas.
They have met twice in the WCWS. Arizona was eliminated by Texas 1-0 in 11 innings in 2005, and the Wildcats beat the Longhorns 2-0 in 2006 en route to a national championship.
Caitlin Lowe played in both of those games against Texas All-American Cat Osterman in the circle for Texas.
CDO graduate Callista Balko-Elmore, the catcher, was the hero in the victory over Osterman in 2006 after Lowe was hit by a pitch to lead off the sixth inning and stole second base. Osterman intentionally pitched around Kristie Fox, whose walked created a chance for force out at third and second base.
Balko, 0 for 9 against Osterman with nine strikeouts, followed with a single that found the hole between third base and shortstop and the speedy Lowe kept running to home plate to put Arizona ahead 1-0.
“I’ll take my chances with Balko any day,” Osterman told reporters after the game. “I threw the pitch that she usually doesn’t hit. I’d throw it again.”
Arizona scored the second run of that game on a double-steal with Balko running to second and pinch-runner Kelly Nelson sprinting home while the catcher tried to get Balko out at second.
Alicia Hollowell-Dunn won that pitcher’s duel with Osterman, striking out nine with no walks while allowing only four hits.
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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.