Arizona was on the same victory path it took in the Columbia (Mo.) Regional and Starkville (Miss.) Super Regional — effective pitching, stellar defense and a timely home run — but Oklahoma State’s Karli Petty forced the Wildcats off course Thursday night.
Petty’s three-run home run off Hanah Bowen in the bottom of the sixth inning was the difference for No. 7 Oklahoma State in the 4-2 win over Arizona in the opening-round game of the Women’s College World Series at Oklahoma City.
The Wildcats (38-21) will play Oregon State (39-21) in an elimination-bracket game Friday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2. The Beavers lost to No. 14 Florida 7-1.
The Pac-12 is 0-3 in the WCWS after the first day.
No. 5 UCLA, which lost to Texas 7-2, will play Northwestern in the other elimination-bracket game at 4 p.m. on Friday.
“I definitely think that us not getting our heads down is the biggest thing,” Sharlize Palacios said of the matchup with the Beavers. “We played an amazing game and it was one pitch that changed the difference. You take away that pitch and it’s a different game.
“The great thing is that we’re an amazing team and we are meshing when we need to mesh. Our pitchers are still doing amazing. There’s nothing lacking. That’s the way the games are when you get to the College World Series. There’s only eight teams left. It’s the best of the best and that’s what’s gonna happen. So I think we’ll just have to play our best game and just focus on the next pitch.”
Oklahoma State All-American pitcher Kelly Maxwell (19-4) had 14 strikeouts and two walks in a complete-game performance. She allowed five hits and two runs — both on a home run by Palacios in the fifth inning — that were the first runs she allowed in the postseason after 26 1/3 innings.
Bowen (13-11) engaged in a pitcher’s duel with Maxwell until the sixth inning after Miranda Elish led off with a walk and Sydney Pennington followed with a single down the right-field line. Hannah Martinez misplayed the ball and Pennington advanced to second base on the error after Elish reached third base.
It was only the second error of the postseason for Arizona.
Petty followed with a home run on a 2-2 pitch that cleared the centerfield wall to put Oklahoma State ahead 4-2.
“I think they just capitalized on pitches, especially in the right moments,” Bowen said.
Arizona was unable to come up with those plays at the right time that it previously achieved in the postseason.
Caitlin Lowe said Arizona first baseman Giulia Koutsoyanopu came “inches” from snagging that hit by Pennington down the line.
“Here’s the thing — I think G was an inch away from that ball and that would have been a double play instead of a double down the line,” Lowe said. “That’s because it’s a game of inches. I thought Bo had a couple strikeouts that were right there and they ended up being walks. That changes the game and it’s just that much.
“Today, it went their way and tomorrow it’s going to go our way, hopefully.”
Devyn Netz entered in relief, breaking Arizona’s string of five complete games for its starting pitchers in the postseason. Bowen finished allowing five hits and four runs (all earned) in her five-plus innings with four walks and two strikeouts.
Netz, the likely starter against Oregon State on Friday, retired three of the next four batters she faced.
Palacios’ third home run of the postseason and 20th of the year, was a two-run blast on a 0-1 count from Maxwell with two outs in the fifth inning.
The hit scored pinch-runner Amber Toven, who came in for Sophia Carroll after Carroll broke a 0-for-14 slump in the postseason with a single.
“The big part of our momentum shift is when Sophia Carroll got that amazing hit up the middle there and everyone kind of opened their eyes and was like, ‘Hey, let’s pass the bat around. We can do this,'” Palacios said. “We’re facing one of the best (pitchers) and they were facing one of the best, too. So I think that’s what the game ended up to be.”
The home run by Palacios gives Arizona 10 this postseason. Home runs have accounted for 14 of the Wildcats’ 23 runs.
“They capitalized on one pitch and we’ve been living on that one pitch this entire postseason,” Lowe said. “They had it tonight and I thought Shar had it with her home run. We put ourselves in good situations but we didn’t get the big hit when we needed to.”
Bowen worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fifth inning after hitting a batter and walking two.
After walking Chyenne Factor, she got Katelynn Carwile to pop out to left field to end the threat.
Bowen has worked out of three bases-loaded jams in the postseason without allowing a run. She did the same thing against Missouri in a 2-0 win and against Mississippi State in a 3-2 victory in eight innings.
“Just coming back from not getting anything that inning and knowing that we need to have Kelly’s back, I know we needed to help Kelly out and get as many runs up on the board as possible,” said Petty, who was 0 for 2 with a strikeout before the home run. “She’s doing a great job out there. She’s doing her best. We have to pick her up and just doing anything we can to help her out.”
Arizona’s defense behind Bowen continued to be effective in the postseason through the first five innings with Jasmine Perezchica making a sliding catch to end the second inning and Izzy Pacho catching a line drive and turning a double play in the third.
The Wildcats have more double plays (four) than errors (two) in their six postseason games.
Oklahoma State scored first with one out in the fourth after Elish (older sister of Arizona freshman pitcher Madi Elish) doubled over the outstretched hand of Perezchica in left field and Pennington followed with a single that scored pinch-runner Brianna Evans.
Pennington tried to extend the hit to a double but the throw from rightfielder Paige Dimler was in time to Carroll at shortstop.
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
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.