(Tucson, AZ) Kim Doss
The first game of last night’s doubleheader concerned Arizona coach Mike Candrea. In the last few innings, Arizona gave New Mexico State some life. That needed to change, according to the head coach.
“The first game, we were doing a lot of the things that are the reasons why we’ve been struggling,” Candrea said.
He needed things to change quickly. His players needed to do it for themselves.
“Just the whole complexion changed in the second game,” he said. “Our biggest problems are ourselves right now. And young kids sometimes have a hard time fixing it, y’know. So, I finally just blew up between games and said, ‘This is where we’re at. I need your help. You need to fix your mindset.’”
The Wildcats responded to their coach and came out with that improved mindset. They seized the momentum from the first pitch of the second game, winning a run-rule game 9-0 in five innings.
“I thought the second game, we played the game with a lot of energy,” Candrea said. “It looked like we were having fun.”
Sophomore right-hander Alyssa Denham was key to that fun. She effectively mixed locations and pitches to keep New Mexico State off balance all game. While the Aggies hitters had some success against Taylor McQuillin late in the first contest, they were unable to adjust to the change in pitching styles in the second game.
“Me and Tay, we’re very different pitchers. She’s a lefty, I’m a righty, so it comes off different,” Denham said.
Through five innings, Denham faced only three batters over the minimum. Her lone base runners came on a single in the first, a hit batter in the fourth, and a two-out single in the fifth. She had a season-high eight strike-outs, while only allowing two hits.
“I was coming out just fired up,” Denham said. “I had a job and I wanted to let our offense have some fun. So, I knew if I could shut them down, it would give our offense an opportunity to score a lot of runs.”
The Arizona offense responded just as strongly, putting up nine runs in the first three innings. The Wildcats put the leadoff runner on base in every frame, and brought them around to score every inning except the third.
Alyssa Palomino launched her second home run of the day in the top of the first to give Arizona a 2-0 lead.
In the second inning, the Wildcats took advantage of miscues by the NMSU defense to pile on the runs. The Aggies committed three errors in the inning, allowing Arizona extra outs and extra bases. To compound the problems for NMSU, sophomore pitcher Samaria Diaz allowed two hits and a walk.
The inning opened with Malia Martinez reaching first base on a throwing error by third baseman Kennedy Johnson. Two batters later, Ivy Davis hit her second home run in the last three days to put Arizona up 4-0.
A single by Carli Campbell, a walk by Hughes and two more errors by the Aggies defense put two more runs on the board.
The Wildcats put the final touches on the scoring in the fourth inning with help from the NMSU defense. Another error, a hit batter and two balls that got by the Aggies catcher were pivotal in the three-run inning. When it finally came to a close, Arizona was up 9-0 and only needed three outs to end the game.
“I think it was really good for us to prove to ourselves that we really are a really good team,” Denham said.
Now, the Wildcats are headed back into the teeth of the tough PAC-12. On Friday, they travel north to take on in-state rival Arizona State. What are they looking forward to in Tempe?
“Just playing Arizona softball,” Denham said.
That may be the key to having fun.
If you missed the article about Game 1 of the doubleheader, click here.