No. 2 UCLA picked up where it left off the day before in a late-game comeback against No. 24 Arizona, soundly beating the Wildcats 14-3 in a five-inning run rule on Sunday afternoon at Hillenbrand Stadium to sweep the series.
Five Arizona pitchers took the circle in as many innings in a performance indicative of where the pitching staff is in this 10-game conference losing streak, something Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe hopes to get turned around to close out the season.
“I think it’s a mentality and doing something a little bit different at practice,” she said. “I told them when you’re throwing your bullpen against these type of hitters, it’s not just to the catcher. It’s with intent and purpose. I think they can either let this fuel them or let it get to them, and I think that’s a choice they’re going to have to make this week, and hopefully, that can turn us around for the next series.”
Sharlize Palacios, an All-Pac-12 performer last season for Arizona before transferring to UCLA, hit a three-run homer on Saturday to put UCLA (40-4, 16-3) up 7-4 in the seventh inning.
In the top of the first inning on Sunday, Maya Brady and Jordan Woolery singled to get on base before Aaliyah Jordan singled up the middle to bring Brady home and give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
Then Palacios struck again, hitting a three-run homer to right field to extend UCLA’s lead to 4-0.
“She’s always been a good hitter, and she competed in the moments and executed in the right times,” Lowe said of Palacio’s performance in the series.
Ali Blanchard came in to relieve Arizona starting pitcher Devyn Netz after UCLA’s explosive start.
In the top of the second, Janelle Meono — another former Wildcat who transferred to UCLA in the offseason — singled to Blanchard, outrunning the throw to first. Brady then hit a 2-run homer to center field to stretch the early Bruin lead to 6-0.
Arizona got on the board in the bottom of the second when Blaise Biringer scored an unearned run after Sophia Carroll reached base on a fielding error at first. Carroll was called out at second base when she attempted to get an extra base off the error.
In the top of the third, UCLA’s Savannah Pola doubled to right field before Rachel Sid hit a deep ball to right field that Paige Dimler lost in the sun. Pola would score on the error to extend the UCLA lead to 7-1.
Brianna Hardy then replaced Blanchard in the circle.
Arizona began to figure out UCLA standout pitcher Megan Faraimo a little bit in the bottom of the third inning.
With two outs, Dakota Kennedy hit a solo home run over the center field wall to bring some life to Hillenbrand stadium. Allie Skaggs followed it up with a home run to center field of her own, closing Arizona’s deficit to 7-3.
Not to be outdone, Megan Grant and Woolery hit solo home runs for UCLA in the top of the fourth to stretch the lead back out to 9-3, prompting another pitching change for Arizona when Aissa Silva took over for Hardy.
After Silva walked the first two UCLA batters in the top of the fifth, Arizona made another change in the circle, when Sydney Somerndike replaced her.
After Cid singled to left field, Kelli Godin flew out to left field for a sac fly that scored Lauren Hatch. Somerndike then walked Garcia to load the bases, setting up a grand slam by Grant that put UCLA up 14-3.
“They (Arizona pitchers) got their faces rubbed in the dirt just a little bit. I think we all did this weekend, and it’s a matter of how we respond,” Lowe said. “You get a day off to take it all in and then decide which way you’re going to go with it mentally, and I think you heard our crowd cheer for us at the end of this series because they see them fighting their butts off.
“So to me, that’s promising. It’s just we need to be better on the other side.”
Izzy Pacho pinch hit for Tayler Biehl at the bottom of the fifth. She hit a single to left field, and Kennedy hit her second home run of the game to close the gap to 14-5, but it wasn’t enough to extend the game.
Arizona (24-18, 3-12 Pac-12) plays Grand Canyon (33-9) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Phoenix, before its next conference series at Oregon begins Friday.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU.