Arizona was firing on all cylinders on Sunday afternoon at Hillenbrand Stadium, taking down Oregon State 6-3 to win the series and position itself better for the Pac-12 tournament in two weeks.
The Wildcats (27-22, 5-16 Pac-12) started the day last in the standings at ninth, and shortly after the win, found themselves in seventh place — ahead of ASU (21-23, 5-16) and Oregon State (13-27-1, 4-16-1).
The victory paired with an ASU loss on Sunday against visiting Stanford, got the Wildcats to No. 7 in the standings (Arizona and ASU each have 5-16 conference records but the Wildcats hold the tie-breaker with the head-to-head advantage).
Arizona has a crucial series with Cal starting Friday at Hillenbrand at 7 p.m. The Golden Bears (31-17-1, 7-13-1) are currently sixth in the conference standings.
If the Wildcats sweep Cal, they will finish sixth in the standings.
PAC-12 SOFTBALL STANDINGSThrough games of May 5
* Stanford 2-1 vs. Oregon & 1-0 vs. Washington
** Washington 2-1 vs. Oregon
PAC-12 SERIES MAY 5-7
California at Arizona
Arizona State at Oregon State
Utah at Oregon
Washington at Stanford
UCLA’s conference schedule is complete
A sixth- or seventh-place finish for Arizona is very important for two reasons: It guarantees the Wildcats will not participate in the play-in game (between the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds) for the Pac-12 tournament, which begins May 10 at Hillenbrand and it means they will avoid No. 1 seed UCLA until the championship.
The Bruins will play the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in the first round, so avoiding the eighth and ninth place in the standings is highly significant.
“Well, we had a great week of practice leading up to this, and I expect the same starting Tuesday. Building momentum instead of just staying where we’re at,” Arizona coach Caitlin Lowe said after the win over Oregon State.
“Cal is a very good team with a good pitching rotation, so we’ll do our best to get ready for anyone they have on staff and just play our game on the weekend instead of anybody else’s.”
PAC-12 TOURNAMENT AT HILLENBRAND STADIUM
On the game’s first pitch, Jasmine Perezchica robbed a home run from Abby Doerr, leaping to reach her glove above the center field wall.
Arizona starting pitcher Sydney Somerndike then settled in to close out a 1-2-3 inning.
Dakota Kennedy singled up the middle with one out in the bottom of the inning. Oregon State starting pitcher Tarni Stepto walked the following batter — Carlie Scupin — to put two runners on base before Olivia DiNardo hit an RBI single to right field that scored Kennedy to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.
Arizona stranded two runners in the bottom half.
After a scoreless second inning, Oregon State’s Des Rivera hit a lead-off double to left field in the top of the third. With one out, the Arizona coaching staff chose to replace Somerndike in the circle with ace Devyn Netz.
According to Lowe, the early change in the circle was made mostly because of matchups.
“It’s nice to have her (Somerndike) a little bit up in the zone and then bring Devyn in for the down ball,” she said.
Netz would get out of the inning without Oregon State inflicting any damage, leaving Rivera stranded on third base.
A speedy Perezchica opened the bottom of the third inning with a single to shortstop, beating the throw to first. Kennedy followed her up with a single to left field. Scupin, a Tucson High great, loaded the bases when she walked on the next at-bat.
DiNardo then reached base on a fielder’s choice, and Perezchica scored an unearned run to give Arizona a 2-0 lead because Oregon State catcher Rivera’s foot wasn’t touching the plate on a force out.
Then Netz gave herself some insurance runs on the circle when she crushed a line drive off the left field wall with one out to score two runners and extend Arizona’s lead to 4-0. The Wildcats stranded two runners to close out the inning.
Ellie Garcia took over for Stepto to begin the bottom of the fourth inning for the Beavers.
With two outs, Kennedy, a freshman left fielder, hit a solo home run over the right field wall, increasing Arizona’s lead to 5-0.
Her two singles earlier in the game off Stepto, and the home run off Garcia were crucial to the win on Sunday afternoon.
“I was just working hard through the infield on the first pitcher (Stepto) and trying to keep my barrel up to get those higher pitches on the second pitcher (Garcia),” Kennedy said.
Oregon State got on the board in the top of the fifth with two outs when Doerr homered to right field, scoring Rivera to trim Arizona’s lead to 5-2.
Grace Messmer followed with a single, and Hammoude walked to get two runners on base.
Arizona got out of the top of the inning after a fielder’s choice groundball by Kaiea Higa, resulting in Messmer being thrown out at third.
Allie Skaggs hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning that extended the lead to 6-2.
Oregon State loaded the bases against Netz in the top of the sixth inning, but Arizona pulled out a double play to get out of the half-inning when pinch hitter Harleigh Braswell‘s grounder to Netz resulted in a double play.
Netz finished the game for the Wildcats from the circle in the top of the seventh. She gave up a lead-off solo home run to Doerr to begin the inning before recovering to pull out the win.
Netz (14-14) pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing nine hits and three runs with a strikeout.
With a critical series against Cal looming that will determine Arizona’s position in the conference tournament, Skaggs is confident in the team’s current approach.
“We want to win. For me personally, I’m the same as I’ve been. I’ve always been a steady player. I just want to win games, so that’s what we need to do,” she said. “I think if our team shows up the way we did the past few days, we’ll be set. We’ll be good to go. Just prepare the same way we have. Our team’s really talented.
“We want to win with what we’re best at versus always trying to prepare and be what other people are best at. We want to bring it we have, and we know we’ll be set with that.”
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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.