The U. Arizona Wildcats downed the U. Tennessee Lady Volunteers 5-2 on Sunday to move forward to their 13th championship series of the Women’s College World Series in school history.
The Wildcats (52-12) will now face UCLA in a best-of-three series that puts the two winningest programs in NCAA softball history up against one another.
Arizona became just the fifth team to win twice on Sunday to advance to the championship series. The last time it was done was the 2007 Wildcats, who went on to win the national championship.
“This has to go right up there as one of the great moments in Arizona history,” said head coach Mike Candra. “Just to do what they did to give us an opportunity to play for a championship.”
The Wildcats ended the Lady Volunteers’ season for the third time in the last five years.
After forcing the “if necessary” game earlier in the day by mercy ruling Tennessee (49-15) 8-0 in five innings, Arizona quickly found it’s self behind early in Sunday’s second game.
The middle of Arizona’s lineup, which was 1-for-38 coming into Sunday, got the job done for the Wildcats when they needed it most.
After attributing the success of Tennessee’s pitcher Ivy Renfroe to her ability to pitch faster than the Arizona hitters expected, the Wildcats knocked 12 hits off Renfroe (31-6) in the elimination game.
Already down two runs in the third inning, catcher Stacie Chambers cashed in with the first home run of the WCWS for Arizona. Her two run shot that scored center fielder Lauren Schutzler tied the game and swung the momentum back in the UA’s favor.
“Just an outstanding performance: Gutsy, tenacious, whatever you want to call it,” Candrea said of the team’s effort to battle back. “For the last two days it’s just been a grind. I think we had a really good team effort. Some crucial plays that you need at this time of the year.”
Chambers was 1-for-12 in the series before her 18th home run of the season.
Third baseman Brigette Del Ponte would record the game winning RBI in the fifth inning when her single scored senior K’Lee Arredondo.
The improved production put the four through eight hitters in Arizona’s lineup at 5—for-14 during the second game on Sunday.
Arredondo would cap the Wildcat scoring and add some insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth when she hit a two-run jack of her own. The blast once again changed the direction of the game. Before Arredondo stepped to the plate, the Lady Volunteers completed a double play off the bat of Schutzler that ousted Lastrapes and Buchanan, both of whom had reached on infield singles.
“We needed some more runs for (Fowler),” Arredondo said. “It’s a comfort thing you want runs on your back. It feels good.”
The fight of Tennessee, who needed just one win on against the Wildcats to ink its name along with UCLA, was unable to quell the Arizona bats despite starting off the game strong.
The Lady Volunteers came out with energy early, threatening in each of the first three innings.
Tennessee had the bases loaded in the first inning after Kenzie Fowler (38-7) walked Erinn Webb. Raven Chavanne had singled off the glove of Del Ponte and Jessica Spigner was hit by a pitch before Lauren Gibson was walked to plate the run in the first.
The second inning saw a potential add on run squandered after Melissa Brown made a base running error. Brown walked and moved to second base on Fowler’s only called illegal pitch of the night, but was doubled up on a web gem play from Lastrapes.
Brown didn’t realize that Lastrapes had caught the ball and quickly rounded the bases. After hitting the wall, Lastrapes zipped the ball back into second and ended the threat.
“Great catch by Lastrapes, kind of turned the tide a little bit,” Candrea said. “Those are the things that happen in games like this. “
After the third inning, when Tennessee got its last run of the season, Fowler worked through the rest of the game by using a combination of strikeouts and groundouts to keep the Wildcats in comfortable territory.
“Yeah I was tired, but who really cares,” said Fowler of pitching four games in two days. “The defense played awesome today and as long as you can keep the game where we have a chance to win I think our team has a good chance.”
The Wildcats will take on Pacific 10 Conference rivals UCLA starting Monday night at 5 p.m. Pacific time.