Cienega grad Blaise Biringer hit a rope that was snagged by Jessie Harper for the last out against Ole Miss in the 12-6 win for Arizona in Tucson Regional on Sunday at Hillenbrand Stadium.
That ball was significant to Harper, not for her to keep, but to hand over to Mike Candrea, her coach the last five years at Arizona.
They experienced their last game together at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“I caught that ball and I held on to that ball; that ball was not leaving my glove until I could walk over to coach and hand it to him because that is his ball,” Harper said. “At the end of the day, it was a great end to the season (at Hillenbrand). I should be able to hand him the ball and give him a big ol’ hug and tell him I love him.
“That man has really built me into the person and player I am today and I’m so thankful for him and thankful for my time here at the U of A. We’re not done yet. Here we come, Arkansas.”
Arizona is headed to the Super Regional at Arkansas next weekend after its potent offense tallied a season-high 19 hits and Mariah Lopez was a calming influence in the circle in the 12-6 win over Ole Miss in the Tucson Regional final. pic.twitter.com/Et8FwousjH
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) May 24, 2021
The 11th-seeded Wildcats (39-13) advance to their 15th Super Regional appearance in the last 16 seasons. They play No. 6 Arkansas (43-9) in the best-of-three showdown starting Friday at Fayetteville, Ark., at 4 p.m., Tucson time.
When asked about what Harper said about the ball from the last out against Ole Miss during the postgame press conference on Zoom, Candrea smiled and looked away from the camera.
“That was pretty special for her,” he said.
Best game for Candrea?
That’s a loaded question inasmuch as Arizona has eight national championships and played countless meaningful games in the Pac-12 and against other ranked teams under Candrea.
The question was asked if the Wildcats’ win over Ole Miss was the best game Candrea has been a part of in his 36 years at Arizona.
He did not give a definitive no as an answer.
“I really think this was definitely up there. One of the best performances by a team in postseason.”
Arizona rallied for 12 runs, including eight in the fifth inning, to overcome a 6-0 deficit through the first three innings.
Surviving from getting run-ruled by UCLA in a 2000 regular-season game at Hillenbrand to winning 12-9 is special in Candrea’s mind.
Arizona was down 9-1 to the Bruins in the bottom of the fourth before the Wildcats scored four runs on a grand slam by Lauren Bauer and then four more in the sixth to tie the game. Bauer’s three-run home run in extra innings (in the ninth) gave Arizona the improbable 12-9 win over its rival.
“I remember the fans were booing us, and I think I had a chance to say something to the paper the next day about too bad all the fans left before the the action really hit,” Candrea said.
Meoño’s spectacular catch huge
.@janelleivyyy of @ArizonaSoftball with the highlight-reel catch in left field of the ball hit by Ole Miss’s Sydney Gutierrez that likely saved two runs from being scored by the Rebels. pic.twitter.com/5gMY9ddhMB
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) May 24, 2021
Arizona could have faced a run-rule situation against Ole Miss on Sunday, already down 6-0 with two runners on base in the second inning. Sydney Guerrero launched a deep fly ball to left field that freshman Janelle Meoño caught over her back in full sprint with her arm fully extended.
If that ball hit off the wall, Ole Miss would have led 8-0 with Guerrero in scoring position.
Instead, it was the last out for the Rebels and Arizona rallied for 12 unanswered runs starting in the fourth inning. Meoño produced two of those runs with a double as part of the Wildcats’ eight-run rally in the fifth.
“She just impresses me every single day,” said Malia Martinez, whose two-run home run in the fourth sparked Arizona’s comeback. “That play (in the second inning), I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that was crazy.’ I’m so proud and to think how young she is, she’s only going to keep getting better.
“She’s an absolute star. It’s crazy. I can’t wait to see just all the growth she’s going to do throughout her time here.”
Biringer, a psychology major at Ole Miss, told me last week she would not allow the potential distractions of returning to Tucson to play in front of family and friends affect her.
She played as she planned.
The SEC All-Freshman Team selection at second base went 8 for 16 with a double and four runs in the Rebels’ four games in the Tucson Regional. She did not commit an error in 12 balls that came her way.
She finished her freshman season with a .328 batting average and a fielding percentage of .948.
“To come home and to be home and have family and friends and media talking about you and feeling the emotions, I thought she did a great job handling the magnitude of the situation,” Ole Miss coach Jamie Trachsel said. “For a freshman to come in here, play good defense and have a great offensive performance, she’s been a big-time player for us all year.
“It’s really nice to see her finish her freshman year on a big stage like this because the best is yet to come for her.”
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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