COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The Arizona softball season came to a close Saturday, as an 8-4 loss to Baylor in an elimination game in the College Station Regional sent the Wildcats home after they had stayed alive with a 3-2 win over Penn in eight innings earlier in the day.
This is the first season in which Arizona has failed to make it out of the regional round since 2004, and this year’s super regionals will be the first ever in which the Wildcats will not have participated.
The Cats’ 33 finished the season with 33 wins, their fewest since 1986, and 26 losses, the most in program history.
Arizona was nearly sent home early Saturday. With the Wildcats down to their final out in the bottom of the seventh inning and trailing by a run, Hallie Wilson ripped a single through the middle to plate Mandie Perez to send the game against Penn to extra innings, where UA would eventually walk off in the eighth. A single and an error put runners at second and third with no one out for Kelsey Rodriguez, who hit a sacrifice fly to center to end the game.
The Wildcats’ 3-2 win was their fifth consecutive victory in which they needed a late-game comeback to prevail. This one also xtended their season and earned them a chance to take on Baylor in another elimination contest.
The game-tying hit for Wilson was her second of the game; Chelsea Goodacre had a pair of hits of her own, and Rodriguez drove in two of Arizona’s three runs.
Estela Piñon (13-8) was brilliant in relief once again. The junior hurled 4 1/3 scoreless innings and allowed just one hit before retiring the final 10 batters she faced.
Nancy Bowling lasted 3 2/3 innings in the start and gave up two runs, both on a Georgia Guttadauro homer in the fourth that made it 2-0. The freshman allowed three hits, walked three and struck out three in the start.
Alexis Borden (17-12) went the distance for Penn and took the loss, allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits.
Arizona cut into Penn’s two-run lead on a Rodriguez RBI single in the bottom half of the fourth. The Cats had runners at second and third with no one out but managed only the one run in the frame.
UA had just one base runner in the next two innings before mounting its comeback in the seventh. Perez led off the bottom of the seventh with a single and moved to second on Courtney Rodriguez’s sacrifice bunt. Alex Lavine lined out to put Arizona down to its final out, at which point Wilson singled up the middle to drive in Perez and tie the game.
Goodacre led off the bottom of the eighth with a single and moved to third on a two-base error by Penn catcher Jessica Arneson, setting up Kelsey Rodriguez for the walk-off sacrifice fly.
But Arizona ran out of magic against Baylor, which will play Texas A&M in the regional final on Sunday.
UA pitchers issued nine walks in the contest, and Bowling lasted just 1 2/3 innings while allowing four runs on four hits and four walks. She was replaced by Shelby Babcock (16-13), who gave up two runs on two hits with four walks and two strikeouts.
Piñon pitched the final 3 1/3 innings and gave up two runs on four hits with one walk and two strikeouts.
Heather Stearns (11-4) tossed a complete-game for Baylor and allowed four runs, one earned, on six hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. Stearns retired 11 of the last 12 batters she faced.
The Cats actually got on the board first after loading the bases with one out in the first. Rodriguez drove in a run with a bloop single, which made it 1-0 while reloading the bases for Brigette Del Ponte, who hit a sac fly to left to put Arizona ahead 2-0.
But Baylor responded in a big way in the second. Bowling, who did not allow a hit the first time through the order, did not fare nearly as well her second time through. With two out and a runner on first, the top of the Bears’ order notched four consecutive hits, punctuated by a pair of two-run doubles to give Baylor a 4-2 lead and chase Bowling in favor of Babcock, who recorded the third out of the frame.
The Cats tied the game in the third inning with help from a pair of doubles. Goodacre hit a one out two-bagger before Rodriguez worked a 12-pitch, two-out walk. Del Ponte followed with a double to left-center that plated Goodacre, and an errant throw plated Rodriguez, but Del Ponte was tagged out at the plate to end the inning.
Baylor responded with two runs of its own in its next at-bat, with Babcock walking four batters before Jordan Strickland delivered a two-run single that put the Bears on topo 6-4.
Baylor added to its lead with a sacrifice fly in the sixth, and another run scored in the seventh on an RBI double from the Bears’ Linsey Mays.
The deficit proved too much to overcome for the Wildcats, who will miss out on the super regionals for the first time since their addition to the NCAA tournament in 2005.