UA Wildcats softball
How grand it is: Cats walk into Super Regional
Koria blasts a walk off grand slam for win
After nearly four hours, 12 innings and 204 pitches in Sunday’s NCAA Regional Final, starting pitcher Kenzie Fowler had nothing left in her tank.
However, Lini Koria did have plenty left in hers as she blasted a walk off grand slam that vaulted U of A into the Super-Regional.
All season Fowler has done her job as Candrea’s go-to player, consistently keeping the Wildcats in close games.
Hofstra picked up its first runs all year against the Cats in the first.
After giving up a pair of runs in the top of the first, UA answered with three of their own to pull ahead 3-2. In the teams’ previous four meetings – all Arizona wins – the Wildcats had outscored the Pride 31-0.
Fowler kept the game close while she had the ball.
UA’s Matte Haack – who came in as a pinch hitter – hit a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth and tied the game at four.
"You never have enough of a cushion here," Hofstra coach Bill Edwards said. "They have to many great hitters here in their line up. They’re a world-class line up. You have to pitch one though nine."
The Pride went up 4-3 after first baseman Baillie Kirker dropped the ball on an error. Fowler then got a groundout to end the Pride’s momentum and set up a chance for UA to answer.
But after Fowler gave up a base hit and a bases-loaded walk that gave the Pride a 6-4 lead in the top of the 12th, Candrea made the walk to the circle to take his ace out.
"She’s been our go-to person all year," Candrea said. "You get a big game like this, you try to get as much as you can out of her. I kept hoping that we would finish it."
Sarah Akamine came in for Fowler and eight pitches later the Wildcats got out of the 12th and stared the prospect of playing yet another game in the face before K’Lee Arredondo stepped to the plate.
Arredondo did what the Wildcats had done all day long.
Arredondo tripled to the gap in right center, tying the game at 6. After a pair of intentional walks, Koria sent the Wildcats home with a 10-6 win.
“I just wanted to do my best and I wanted to pull though, whether it was a base hit or a home run,” Koria said.
Arizona (46-11) improved its record to 23-0 in Regional Championship games. Hofstra, the Colonial Athletic Association champions, ends its season 45-12.
“We had to play our best and I think we did that and I think we got Arizona ready for the Super-Regional,” Edwards said.
For the weekend, Fowler logged 23 innings, including Saturday’s one-hit, 6-0 shutout against the Pride.
On Sunday, she gave up six runs on 11 hits while striking out nine and walking nine.
“I think it tells a lot about the kid.” Candrea said. “She’s an outstanding pitcher that can beat a lot of people when she’s not at her best. That’s the sign of a good pitcher to find a way to win when you don’t have everything going.”
With Sunday’s win, Arizona advances to play Brigham Young University this weekend in a best of three Super Regional beginning Friday at Hillenbrand Stadium.
Times have yet to be determined, as games will be televised on ESPN.
“They’re a solid team,” said Candrea of BYU. “They have some athletes and if you look at the All-Region team, BYU is well represented. It tells me that they have a team with some pretty good athletes, they swing the bats well, they’re going to be a formidable opponent.”
BYU advanced to another showdown with UA by advancing out of the NCAA Austin Regional by defeating East Carolina 8-3 in the championship game.
The Cougars have never made it to the NCAA Super Regional, but played in their sixth straight NCAA regional.
Arizona defeated the Cougars Feb. 26, 8-0, at the Cathedral City (Calif.) Classic.
In that game, Fowler struck out seven and never let a runner past second base. Four players had two RBIs apiece, Koria, Kristen Arriola, Stacie Chambers and Brittany Lastrapes.
The two teams had never met in the regular season or in the NCAA Tournament before this season.
'I want this place to be standing room only'
While Candrea is happy to be playing the Super-Regional at home and is pleased with the support his team gets by fans, he was still a bit disappointed.
“It’s great to play here,” he said. “I don’t think there’s another venue in the country that get the support that we get though out the year. My big thing is I want this place to be standing room only.
“There were way too many seats open today and it bothers me a little bit that some people take it for granted. It’s just amazing how you walk into the ballpark and people say. ‘Finish it in five, finish it in five.’ They don’t understand. The game is not that easy anymore, never has been.”
Sunday’s announced crowd was 2,272 and most stayed throughout the 12-inning marathon.
“I hope we can bring everyone out to the ballpark, because it’s definitely an emotional boost for our kids,” Candrea said. “I think it's an advantage for us playing here (at Hillenbrand). What makes it an advantage is the fans.”