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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Super Regional loss familiar feeling for Arizona softball

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Lauren Chamberlain tags a Wildcat out for the win over Arizona on May 26 in game 2 of the NCAA Super Regional tournament. The win over Arizona earned the Sooners a spot in the Women’s College World Series. Melodie Lettkeman/ The Daily

The Arizona softball team swore revenge on the Oklahoma team that came into Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium and overpowered them 11-2 in two games a year ago. For the second day in a row, their promises fell on deaf ears.

With their season, as well as a trip to the Women’s College World Series on the line, the Wildcats choked the opportunity away, allowing Oklahoma to get out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning on their way to a 7-1 thrashing of what is usually a solid hitting team (.303 team batting average).

With the loss, Arizona softball failed to reach the World Series in back to back years for the first time since head coach Mike Candrea’s arrival in Tucson prior to the 1986 season.

Saturday’s contest was a struggle from the start, similar to Friday’s performance. Arizona, which failed to reach 40 wins for the first time since the 1986 season, had All-American Kenzie Fowler in the circle, but she was unable to provide any more of a spark than sophomore pitcher Shelby Babcock a day earlier.

Fowler, like Babcock on Friday, walked the first batter she faced, in addition to allowing the first six batters she faced to reach base, walking two runs across the plate. At the end of the first frame, Oklahoma had a 5-0 lead on just two hits, and a shocked Wildcats team looked to recover.

“With a team like this, you can’t afford to down 5-0 after one,” Candrea said in a fourth inning interview to ESPN. “I thought we had a good game plan, we’re just not getting it done.”

Through five, Fowler had Sooner batters’ backs against the wall in full count situations, but she was unable to capitalize, allowing four hits and a walk.

“I didn’t feel too bad about myself,” Fowler said. “I felt confident even though the scoreboard was a little lopsided. I knew we’d get a run, but you can’t just give a time like that too many runs.”

Arizona’s situation got worse when Oklahoma’s junior sensation Keilani Ricketts stepped into the circle in the second inning. For the next three frames of play, not only were the Wildcats unable to cross home plate, they were practically rendered helpless by Ricketts, as well as her off speed pitches.

“She’s an amazing pitcher,” senior Lini Koria said. “She worked us in today, a lot more than yesterday. We did our homework on her and were expecting her to go away, but she did a really good job adjusting and getting ahead of us with her off speed pitches.”

Ricketts struck out the entire Arizona lineup – in order – over the course of the second, third, and fourth innings, giving her 10 strikeouts at the end of five frames of play.

This year’s super regional round, like last year’s, was dominated by Ricketts. In four postseason appearances against Arizona over two years, Ricketts has four complete games, just three runs scored against her, and most importantly, four victories. In Saturday’s contest, Ricketts allowed just three hits and the Wildcats’ lone run was not charged to her.

The powerful middle of the lineup for Oklahoma, which was silenced to the tune of two hits Friday, broke Arizona’s back with two home runs, one apiece from catcher Jessica Shults and first baseman Lauren Chamberlain, which pushed the Sooner lead to 7-0.

The one run Arizona was able to score came from a Lini Koria RBI single on an error, when the ball skipped under the legs of Oklahoma third baseman Javen Henson.

In two games against Oklahoma, they were outscored 13-1, out hit 18-10, and left 16 runners stranded on the bases.

“I believe the nucleus of this team is very solid and very good, and you will be hearing more about them,” Candrea said. “I’m proud of them for what they’ve gone through.”

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