UA Wildcats softball
Fowler leads Cats past BYU in pitchers' duel
Arizona overcomes three errors in softball Super Regional
Arizona ace Kenzie Fowler struck out at least a batter per inning in an all out pitchers duel vs. BYU counterpart Paige Affleck, 2-1, in the NCAA Super Regional Softball Championship tournament on Friday.
Fowler set the tone in the first inning, as she fired two swinging strikeouts for a 1-2-3 opening frame.
In the bottom of the first, consecutive bunt singles by Lauren Schutzler and K’Lee Arredondo put runners on first and second for the Wildcats.
On a full pitch count with two outs, Brigette Del Ponte hit a floater to left field. BYU shortstop J.C. Clayton and left fielder Caschjen Davis-Atagi collided, and the ball fell in for an RBI double.
“These Arizona hitters have it down – to inches – about what’s a strike and what’s not,” Affleck said. “So when you’re trying to throw balls that are moving and make them look like strikes but aren’t, (the Wildcats) make it tough.”
After the first, the game then turned into a duel between starting pitchers, as the offenses went silent through the next five scoreless innings.
“Great pitching always beats great hitting,” BYU head coach Gordon Eakin said. “And today, I think you had two of the best pitchers in the country battling each other, and it turned out to be a great battle from the mound.”
Fowler went seven innings with 10 strikeouts giving up one run, six hits and a walk.
Closely matching her, Affleck went six innings allowing two runs, seven hits and a walk.
“I felt good about my performance today,” Fowler said. “They’re pretty solid one through nine (batters), so there were no easy outs. (The BYU hitters) are free swingers, so I tried to contain their power.”
In addition to restricting BYU’s power, Fowler was effective in the clutch as well.
In the fourth, the Cougars had loaded the bases with one out after a Del Ponte throwing error, a hit-by-a-pitch and a single to left by Delaney Willard. But Fowler induced a force-out at the plate and a strikeout to end the inning
“We had our chances,” Eakin said. “We had several opportunities where we had runners in scoring position and did not put the ball in play. You don’t have a chance if you don’t put the ball in play.”
Arizona maintained their slim lead until the sixth when Delaney Willard tied the game on a bloop single to right, driving in pinch hitter Alexandra Hudson, who had reached on a walk.
Wildcat catcher Stacie Chambers tagged Hudson before she could reach home, but couldn’t hold on to the ball.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and put the ball in play,” Willard said. “She jammed me a little bit but luckily, it kind of fell in.”
The Wildcats regained the lead in the bottom of the sixth on Lini Koria’s single up the middle, driving in Del Ponte, who had doubled down the right field line.
“I try to keep it simple up there (at the plate) and not do too much,” Koria said. “It just happened to work in my favor today.”
In the top half of the seventh inning, the Cougars threatened with a leadoff single up the middle by second baseman Kristin Delahoussaye, but she never got off first.
“We did what we needed to do today to win,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said. “We were slow at making some adjustments and never got to (Affleck) like I thought we might be able to, but hey, we live for another day.”
Fowler said she is not experiencing any discomfort from her right arm injury and that she feels great physically.
She does, however, have a longer preparation routine to get her ready for each game.
“Mentally, I approach the game the same as before,” Fowler said. “But I prepare a lot physically in the training room to get my arm loose to where it’s good. So I did that today, and it was successful.”
She has been bothered by an injury that forced her to leave early in the final regular season series against UCLA.
Big bat kept quiet
Fowler said a big factor in this afternoon’s win was shutting down BYU power-hitter Angeline Quiocho.
“My heart beat a little bit faster against Quiocho,” Fowler said. “In terms of my approach, I tried to jam her so she couldn’t get extended. If she squares up on a pitch, the ball is going to go out (for a homerun), so I didn’t want to give her anything that her bat head could get around on. She swings hard and has a lot of power.”
Quiocho is batting over .400 with 28 homeruns on the season. The third baseman went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts in the game.
“(Quiocho) has created so much hype around her, and there’s always pressure on her,” Eakin said. “I think she felt a little pressure today. But I’d put a milkshake on the line that Angie will come out and be a better hitter tomorrow.”
Fowler finished the day with 122 pitches, nearly 80 fewer than she threw against Hofstra on Sunday, and Affleck threw 110.
Getting away with mistakes
The Wildcats tallied three errors against BYU, two throwing errors by Del Ponte and a dropped ball by Chambers that resulted in the only Cougars’ run.
“I’m not happy with our defense today,” Candrea said. “Obviously, we dodged a bullet by having three errors. And I really believe that at this time of year, the team that makes mistakes is the team that gets beat. We were fortunate today.”
Eakin agreed, saying the margin of error is small in softball, especially in close bouts.
”I’ve been around this game for 30 years, and I know how small of a margin it is,” he said. “This is a game of inches. Often times, it’s not the team that wins – it’s the team that makes a mistake or the team that maybe gets a break. That’s what makes the game great.”