Arizona Softball

Arizona tops Villanova behind two HRs from Kennedy to advance to 17th Super Regional

Overall: 187-67
Regionals: 104-12
Appearances: 36
Championships: 33
Super Regionals: 20-17
Appearances: 17
Championships: 9
WCWS: 63-38
Appearances: 25
Championships: 8

Arizona traveled again into SEC territory for a regional and emerged as champion once more, this time with a 9-4 victory Sunday over Villanova to cap a 3-0 run through the Fayetteville (Ark.) Regional.

Dakota Kennedy hit two home runs to reach 13 for the season, Allie Skaggs belted her team-high 14th homer and freshman Emily Schepp contributed her sixth home run in the win over Villanova.

The Wildcats (37-16-1) advance to their 17th Super Regional round — a trip to No. 5 Oklahoma State (46-10). The date of the best-of-three tournament at Stillwater, Okla., against the Cowgirls will be from Thursday to Sunday.

Arizona moves on to the Super Regionals for the third straight time after having to travel to an SEC locale — Knoxville (Tenn.) against Tennessee in 2016, Columbia (Mo.) against Missouri in 2022 and Fayetteville this year against Arkansas.

The Wildcats have won 13 consecutive games against SEC opponents in the regional round dating to 2014 when Arizona beat LSU 13-5 in five innings for the Tucson Regional title at Hillenbrand.

“I feel like a lot of it for us is just the pride that we have in the Pac-12,” Skaggs said about Arizona’s early postseason success against the SEC over the last decade. “We like to go and represent our conference very well. Anytime that we get to go play an SEC opponent, it’s nice to go out there and kind of just show them what we can do in the Pac. It feels good to win for the conference.

“We’re pulling for all of the Pac-12 schools right now in the postseason. There’s just a little bit of a chip on our shoulder of we like to prove that our conference is one of, if not the best in the country. So to continue that legacy is a fun thing to do.”

Villanova, making its first appearance in a regional final, finishes its season 33-24.

Arizona is coming off last year’s omission from the NCAA tournament, snapping a 35-year run in the postseason.

When asked by ESPN broadcasters about the mindset of the team returning to the NCAA tournament, Kennedy, a sophomore left fielder, said: “It was really just to come in and play our game and I think we did that this whole weekend.”

“All the games we came out ready to go,” Kennedy continued. “We’re super stoked to be moving on.”

Arizona scored at least one run in the first three innings while Miranda Stoddard was pitching effectively in the circle.

Skaggs’ sacrifice fly in the first inning plated Regan Shockey, who hit a single with one out and moved to third on Carlie Scupin’s single.

Arizona’s lead increased to 4-0 in the second inning after the rally was generated when Brooke Biringer reached on an error to lead off the inning and Schepp followed with an infield single.

Kaiah Altmeyer then grounded out, allowing Biringer to score.

Kennedy followed with a two-run home run, her 12th of the season.

In her first NCAA tournament appearance this weekend, Kennedy belted three home runs and produced five RBIs.

“I think that’s just me as a person really, to be honest — I try and stay calm, cool and collected,” Kennedy said. “I was glad I could do it this weekend.”

Arizona coach Caitlin Lowe believes Kennedy has emerged as one of Arizona’s leaders despite her young age compared to her senior teammates.

“She puts in the work every single day to really just get back something from this game and she keeps pouring into it,” Lowe said. “Proud of her and the way she has led this weekend, too. I think she’s stepping into a new role that she hasn’t had before.”

Another three-run rally in the third inning put Arizona ahead 7-0.

The rally was highlighted by Skaggs’ leadoff home run and a two-run triple by Tayler Biehl.

Stoddard was relieved by Brooke Mannon in the top of fourth inning after the first two batters reached on a walk and a hit-by-pitch.

Chloe Smith and Elizabeth Gray hit RBI singles and Tess Cites belted a two-run double, cutting Arizona’s lead to 7-4 and forcing Mannon’s exit. Aissa Silva came in and got the last batter to pop out to left field.

Silva allowed two hits and no walks in the last 3 1/3 innings of the game. She struck out two.

“I was very proud of our pitching performance this weekend (with) the way they work together,” Lowe said. “The way we’re able for Aissa to start and come in and close the game and still be ready … she just absolutely wanted the ball.”

Schepp and Kennedy homered in the fifth inning to increase Arizona’s lead to 9-4.

“I think if we just play our game and stick to our plan, we’re capable of everything,” Kennedy said. “We’re super excited to be moving on to the Super Regionals and just doing our thing out there in Oklahoma.”

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