Carlie Scupin’s 18th home run of the season, a two-run shot with two outs in the fifth inning, and Hanah Bowen’s third straight complete-game performance was the difference in Arizona’s 2-0 win Saturday over No. 15 Missouri at Columbia, Mo.
The victory places Arizona (35-20) in the Columbia Regional championship round at 1 p.m. Tucson time on Sunday in a rematch with Missouri (38-21). The Tigers defeated Missouri State 2-0 in an elimination-bracket final Saturday night.
Arizona needs one win to reach its eighth consecutive Super Regional. Missouri must beat the Wildcats twice.
Arizona coach Caitlin Lowe went with Bowen (12-10) in the circle for the second straight day after the fifth-year senior right-hander pitched a complete game in Arizona’s 8-3 win over Illinois on Friday. Bowen also pitched a complete game in Arizona’s 4-3 loss against visiting Stanford last Saturday on Senior Day.
“I think she came out on a fire yesterday and really came through in clutch situations. And I thought she matched up well against Missouri. I just always trust the ball in her hands,” Lowe said of her reason with going with Bowen two straight days.
Lowe, who has won the first two NCAA tournament games of her career after replacing the legendary Mike Candrea, would not confirm that Bowen will start again in Sunday’s 1 p.m. game.
Bowen finished with four hits allowed with six strikeouts and two walks against Missouri on Saturday. She was strong throughout, striking out two batters in the seventh.
“I feel good right now; my body is not all there but I feel like I’m in a zone and focused,” said Bowen, who has fought through hip and leg injuries and appeared to be slightly limping throughout.
She added that she had to work through discomfort on “certain pitches” but “other than that, it’s mind over matter.”
She threw 118 pitches against the Tigers after hurling 126 against Illinois.
It was Bowen’s second complete-game shutout of the season. She beat New Mexico 1-0 on Feb. 13 at Hillenbrand Stadium.
Scupin’s home run came after Arizona’s first two batters in the fifth struck out and Izzy Pacho was hit by a pitch against starter Jordan Weber (15-7). The two-run blast over the right-centerfield fence came on a full count and increased her RBI count to 54 this season.
“My first two at-bats I was trying to make adjustments,” Scupin said. “I wasn’t really hitting against (Weber) very well but I knew she would give me a pitch that I could really push.”
Bowen started strong, retiring the side in the first two innings and did not allow a hit until there was one out in the third.
The single by Jenna Laird at that time came with one out and it loaded the bases after Casidy Chaumont and Emma Raabe had walked. Bowen got the last two batters to pop out and strike out to end the threat.
Missouri again threatened in the top of the sixth after Brooke Wilmes singled and Kendyll Bailey later had a double with one out. Bowen got the last two batters to fly out.
Arizona is now 8-7 in games this season in which the Wildcats and their opponents scored five runs or less. They were 1-6 in such games during the Pac-12 season.
“There’s no time like present,” Lowe said of winning a low-scoring close game in the postseason. “I think that’s what we’ve been working towards is those types of games and great defense, great pitching and timely hitting — sorry I sounded exactly like Coach Candrea on that — but it’s still very true.
“This was the first time we kind of put everything together as one and came through in that clutch moment.”
The game was delayed for about an hour because of lightning and rain with the game scoreless in the third inning.
“We definitely kind of expected the rain delay just based on the weather this morning,” Scupin said, referring to the overcast weather forecast. “I mean, we always have fun no matter what. We were in the locker room staying loose and but also staying focused and ready to get back out there.”
Arizona third-base coach Lauren Lappin was ejected by umpire Lindon Baptiste in the bottom of the second for arguing a controversial call on Blaise Biringer called out of the batter’s box when she reached on what appeared to be a hit.
Lowe took over third-base coaching duties for the first time in her coaching career with the Wildcats. She joined Candrea’s staff in 2015 on a full-time basis at her alma mater.
Candrea was ejected in a 2016 game against Oregon State for arguing balls and strikes and Stacy Iveson replaced him as the third-base coach.
Lowe mentioned she coaches third base during practice but has yet to do so in a game.
“She got a little heated and no big deal,” Lowe said of Lappin. “We didn’t get a lot of breaks. The team stayed composed and worked through every single thing and handled it so well.”
Janelle Meoño was also called for a third strike in the first inning for allegedly stepping out of the box while trying to swing.
“I thought they were very mature and composed in a tough situation because they didn’t feel they were out of the box,” Lowe said about her lineup adapting to the way the umpires were calling the game. “They just stayed mentally tough and kept working on their game. … I was very impressed with their composure.”
Arizona catcher Sharlize Palacios hit a single in the first inning to increase her hitting streak to 12 games. She has reached base in 26 consecutive games dating to April 1 against Washington.
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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.