By Tom Callahan
KEAN LEADS WILDCATS FROM THE NINE SPOT
Freshman Jenna Kean went 4-for-4 with a pair of runs scored as Arizona’s bats woke up during a 6-0 win over NDSU to advance to Sunday’s winner’s bracket game.
Kean saw more action earlier this season while Senior Ashleigh Hughes missed some time with a broken hand, and stayed in the lineup as the nine hitter for the Wildcats this weekend when Hughes returned.
“I definitely got my confidence back up and I feel a lot better than I did before,” she said of her newfound playing time.
“It was nice to see that, I think she used every option she had but swing away,” said Arizona Head Coach Mike Candrea. “Any team at this level you have to be productive one through nine… I give Jenna a lot of credit today because as a freshman it’s challenging when you’re (in and out of) the lineup. It’s a performance-based sport. The great thing about it is the more opportunities she has like today are going to make her database bigger which is going to make her nothing but better from here on out.”
The Wildcats are a team long on young talent, with sophomores Dejah Mulipola and Reyna Carranco each knocking in a pair of runs and combining for seven hits in the game.
“That’s the whole thing with this team,” Candrea said. “we’re very freshman, sophomore dominated and every opportunity we have is just putting another notch in that database. To me that’s something that you draw from all the time and you’re going to get better at those big games.”
BULLDOG BATS BEAT ST. FRANCIS AT THEIR OWN GAME
After a disappointing loss to NDSU on Friday, the Mississippi State Bulldogs responded with an offensive outburst in its first game Saturday including a pair of home runs en route to an 11-5 win over St. Francis to end the season for the Red Flash.
MSU chased St. Francis starter Abby Trahan early after she allowed six hits and four runs, all earned, in just 1.1 innings of work. Three of MSU’s six hits in that span went for extra bases and the Bulldogs opened up a 5-0 lead after three innings.
After the Red Flash tied the game with three runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth, MSU busted the game open again with a big six-run sixth inning thanks to home runs from Sarai Niu and Carmen Carter.
St. Francis came into the tournament averaging 1.48 home runs per game, good for second in the nation. But the deep balls eluded the Red Flash this weekend as they failed to drive one out of the park.
“It’s a little bit different pitch calling with umpires here,” said St. Francis Head Coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift. “It’s a much tighter, much more real (strike) zone here. Pitches that we have to swing at for a month and a half in conference we didn’t have to here. So we were chasing some pitches up and just getting a tad underneath them for pop-ups instead of running them out.”
RED FLASH SENIORS LOOK BACK
Seniors Madison Cabell and Jordan Seneca had trouble holding back the tears when facing the media after St. Francis was eliminated, but their reflections highlighted the program’s growth.
“For me I’ve completely enjoyed it,” said Cabell. “For me it’s a huge accomplishment. The four years I’ve had here each year has been just an amazing experience and being able to progress every single year. It’s been awesome. I don’t have any regrets.”
When asked what what her favorite part of being at St. Francis has been, Cabell didn’t hesitate.
“The girls around me. Coaches. Everybody just pulling for you.”
Seneca had a harder time fighting through the tears.
“Every year we’ve been here we’ve learned something and we’ve grown from it. The culture that we set as freshman has grown every year. We even said it in the huddle after the game to this year’s freshman class it’s completely different from when we came in. To see that happen makes us very proud and makes us feel like we did our job as seniors to lead this team.”
And then as the emotions overwhelmed her, “I hope I did my job.”
Patrick-Swift leaned in immediately.
“They did their job.”
BULLDOGS ADVANCE WITH BIG WIN OVER NDSU
The question of which team would have the advantage – a Bison squad with some time between games to rest or a Bulldogs team that played back-to-back – was answered in the top of the first inning Saturday night.
MSU scored six times in the first to give starter Holly Ward all the cushion she would need as she spun a two-hit shutout, setting up a game against Arizona Sunday at 7 pm ET. For MSU to advance they must beat Arizona twice as the Wildcats have not lost in the double-elimination tournament.
Reggie Harrison had her biggest game of the weekend, going 3-for-4 with 4 RBIs and three runs scored.
The game marked a complete turnaround from Friday night’s meeting between the two squads when NDSU took advantage of timely hits and smart base running to win. Instead MSU came out firing, carrying right over from their big win against St. Francis.
“The fight and the battle in our kids… you have to love that fight, that resilience, that ability to keep on believing,” said MSU Head Coach Vann Stuedeman after Friday’s loss. “That’s tough when things don’t fall your way. I’m really proud of that.”
Saturday the Bulldogs showed exactly that character, rebounding to win both games to stay alive and scoring 23 runs in the process to set up Sunday’s showdown.
WILDCATS WELCOME LAST HOMESTAND AT HILLENBRAND
It’s the end of an era for Arizona Softball. After this season Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium will be torn down and replaced with a new one on the same spot.
While there are many memories contained within the walls of the old facility, the new one will offer more creature comforts for both players and fans alike. A new roof will provide more shading from the Arizona sunshine over a revamped seating area. The press box will be enclosed. The dugouts will get a makeover as well.
Does a team that has traditionally drawn well and indeed stuffed its stadium to the gills on many occasions need the new look? The man who has been around as the head coach of Arizona Softball since 1986, Mike Candrea, thinks so. He’s been around so long that he and the ballpark are on a first-name basis.
“I haven’t really thought about it a lot,” said Candrea. “This has been a great place for us, it’s been really good to us, but I’m really looking forward to the remodel of Rita. The sport has kind of exploded and we need to do something for our fans, some more amenities. I was very disappointed with the crowd last night and in fact today when you’re used to coming out here for a conference game and having the bleachers full (our fans) make a difference. That’s why we want to host, that’s why we want to be here is because of our fans.”
The remodel will start as the end of this weekend’s action and is slated to be completed by January of 2019, before the team’s spring season begins.