Sharlize Palacios broke a scoreless tie with a solo home run to lead off the fifth inning and Devyn Netz continued Arizona’s impressive pitching in the postseason with another complete-game shutout, leading the Wildcats to a 1-0 win Sunday over Missouri in the Columbia (Mo.) Regional.
Arizona (36-20) advances to its eighth consecutive Super Regional round and 16th overall. The Wildcats will play Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., next weekend. The Bulldogs (37-25) are in the Super Regionals for the first time in program history after they defeated No. 2 Florida State twice on Sunday at Tallahassee, Fla.
“We’ve been tested like we never been tested before this year, and they let it make them stronger. I think it really showed today,” said Arizona coach Caitlin Lowe, whose team struggled during the Pac-12 season with an 8-16 record in her first year as coach.
“So proud of Devyn and the way she competed in the circle. This game is crazy and sometimes it comes down to one pitch and that one pitch Shar capitalized on.”
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Lowe went with Netz as the starting pitcher instead of Hanah Bowen, who pitched complete games in the previous wins over Illinois and Missouri in the regional. Bowen, suffering from hip and leg soreness, threw a combined 244 pitches in those two games.
“I just know from past experiences with Devyn, she’s gonna give you everything that she has,” Lowe said. “Bow is always available, but at the same time, when Devyn’s got that fire in her eyes and she wants the ball, I felt great about it today.”
Netz (14-7) allowed only two hits with three walks and three strikeouts against Missouri. It is her second shutout of the season, also achieving that feat in an 8-0 win at Utah on April 23.
“A lot ran through my mind but I know I am at my best when I go at hitters in hard moments,” said Netz about her reaction when told she would start. “It helps knowing that it’s not just me out there.”
The Wildcats’ defense also strongly backed Netz without an error while executing stellar plays, including third baseman Izzy Pacho tracking down foul balls, Palacios as catcher throwing out runners at first base on bunt attempts and second baseman Allie Skaggs diving to make a catch of an infield fly.
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Netz and Bowen (who pitched Arizona to a 2-0 win over Missouri Saturday) limited the Tigers (38-22) to only six hits in the two victories over the Tigers.
The shutouts in consecutive seven-inning games is the first time Arizona has done that since beating Missouri (2-0 score) and San Diego State (10-0) in the 2020 Mary Nutter Classic. Arizona shut out Grand Canyon in consecutive five-inning games last season.
Netz, a Class of 2020 Ironwood Ridge graduate, said her postseason shutout is “kind of surreal” after not being able to play as a senior in 2020 with the Nighthawks because of COVID-19 and playing behind Super Seniors Alyssa Denham and Mariah Lopez last year.
“I took hold of what the senior class gave me and what they taught me,” she said. “I took that whole year under (Arizona pitching coach) Taryne (Mowatt-McKinney) just to get better and to learn.”
Netz has also had to work through ankle soreness most of the season. She has worn a boot on her right ankle in recent weeks.
“It’s been a long season. I’ve faced some adversity but my boot is not here right now so we can move on,” she said.
Arizona had its chances through the first four innings against Missouri starter Jordan Weber (15-8) but could not force in three runners in scoring position in that span. The Wildcats left seven runners on base overall in the first four innings.
Palacios greeted her in the fifth with a home run on a 1-2 count after consulting with Lowe. The blast went over the centerfield wall, her 19th home run of the season.
“I was not trying to hit a home run at all; I was trying to get a good at-bat going and try to spark something for the team,” Palacios said.
She said that she tried “to slow down the moment” against Weber (a rise-ball pitcher).
“I actually heard my dad (yell), ‘You got this Sharlize!'” she said. “I just took a deep breath … I felt good so I just went for it.”
Palacios extended her hitting streak to 13 games, and she has reached base 27 straight games dating to April 1 against Washington.
The Wildcats finished with four hits against Weber, leaving eight runners on base, four in scoring position.
Lowe is now 3-0 in the NCAA tournament with a trip to the Super Regional in her young head coaching career. She deflected attention on her personal feat by crediting her players for believing in themselves to get to this point.
“It’s special for these women. I mean, I’ve just had a backseat while watching them work,” Lowe said. “Ever since the fall, I knew we had the talent. We’ve just been trying to prove it to ourselves this whole time that we are the team that we believe we are and it doesn’t really matter what other people think.
“We put in the work every single day and I’ve watched them do that. There were some bumps along the way. But at the end of the day, I like that they let it make them stronger. I’ve never seen them closer than they are today. That was just exciting for me to see that all that work paid off for them.”
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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.