Arizona Softball

Kennedy had a big night and Silva kept GCU at bay in Arizona’s final regular season game

Dakota Kennedy went 4 for 4 with two home runs on Tuesday night at Hillenbrand Stadium. (Arizona Athletics)

Two home runs from Dakota Kennedy and solid pitching down the stretch from Aissa Silva led No. 18 Arizona to edge Grand Canyon in the final game of the regular season Tuesday night at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Arizona (33-15-1, 13-11 Pac-12) regained a 3-2 lead over the Antelopes in the bottom of the fourth inning when Kennedy hit her second solo home run of the night. The lead held into the top of the seventh when Grand Canyon loaded the bases with no outs on Silva. She struck out the next three batters to end the late-game rally by the Antelopes and the game.

After inheriting an earlier bases-loaded jam in the top of the third inning, Silva (21-4) had seven strikeouts, allowing one run off four hits and a walk in five innings.

The win for Arizona comes following a tough 11-7 loss at top-ten ranked UCLA on Sunday in which the Wildcats blew a 7-0 lead, giving up 11 runs in the fifth and sixth innings in the rubber match game and last-ever Pac-12 series with the Bruins. Silva gave up seven runs in the fifth inning on Sunday, capped off with a grand slam by former Arizona catcher Sharlize Palacios that tied the game at 7-7 before Brooke Mannon took the circle and gave up four runs in the top of the sixth in the loss.

On Tuesday, Mannon relieved Arizona starting pitcher Miranda Stoddard in the circle to open the top of the third. After Grand Canyon’s first three batters loaded the bases off Mannon, Silva came in to relieve her.

Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe explained why the coaching staff chose to relieve Mannon so quickly — something the staff has done most of the season when pitchers face adversity — as opposed to their decision to stick with Silva in the seven-run fifth inning for UCLA on Sunday, and praised how Silva closed the game out against Grand Canyon on Tuesday.

“Really just who’s looking good in the moment, she said. “I think they (Grand Canyon) squared up Miranda kind of early, and Brooke wasn’t able to find the zone tonight; I think she’ll rebound from this and do better, but at the same time, that’s a very good team, and you can’t give them a whole lot of chances, so we wanted to get Aissa in the game. She was one of the better matchups for them anyway; we just wanted to make sure we weren’t throwing her a full seven. I was very, very, very proud of a bases-loaded three-strikeout situation. That to me, and to rebound, shows a lot of guts out of her, and I thought she found her best stuff in those last three outs, which is phenomenal.”

Silva said striking out the last three Grand Canyon batters meant a lot to her, especially after the disappointing loss at UCLA.

“It was super important to me,” she said. “I felt the need to be there for my team, and I like to make it a little difficult on myself and make it a little interesting, but at the end of the day, I knew I needed to come in for my team, and it’s the same way they come in for me to hit.”

Kennedy went 4 for 4 on the night, adding a pair of singles to her two home runs. She said the team moved on mentally from Sunday’s letdown loss at UCLA in its approach to facing Grand Canyon just two days later.

“I think it’s just knowing what we wanted to do,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, we didn’t have the outcome that we wanted on Sunday, but that’s done and over with. No dwelling on that anymore. We knew we were going to play GCU, and we were focused on GCU, and we did what we had to do.”

Grand Canyon (42-11) got two hits to open the game in the top of the first, but Regan Shockey fielded a two-out line drive to center and threw out Kayla Rodgers to record the third out and keep the Antelopes from taking the early lead.

Arizona got two runs in the bottom of the first inning, beginning with a leadoff solo home run from Kennedy. The Wildcats then loaded the bases, prompting Haliey Hudson to replace Meghan Golden in the circle for Grand Canyon. A groundout to shortstop from Blaise Biringer scored Shockey, extending Arizona’s lead to 2-0 heading into the second inning.

A sacrifice fly in the top of the third inning from Ramsay Lopez narrowed Arizona’s lead to 2-1, and Katelyn Dunckel’s leadoff solo home run to open the fourth for Grand Canyon tied the game at 2-2.

The Pac-12 Softball Tournament is May 8-11 at Stanford. Arizona will play a first-round game at 6:30 p.m. on May 9 against Oregon or Washington, and the Wildcats will be the No. 4 or No. 5 seed.

FOLLOW @KEVINMURFEE ON TWITTER! 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.

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