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TUCSON, Ariz. — Heading into the Super Regionals, Arizona had used its hard hitting to blast 103 home runs this season, second best in the NCAA.
Friday, the Wildcats used the hard Hillenbrand Stadium infield clay to defeat Ole Miss, 5-2, in the first game of the best-of-three event. Of the 12 hits Arizona collected, six could be directly attributed to the desert-baked clay surface. The tough conditions also led to three Ole Miss errors.
Arizona is now 46-12, the Rebels fall to 41-19.
Taylor McQuillin (23-7) struck out nine to earn the win. Brittany Finney (18-10) was saddled with the loss.
The Ole Miss offense started off as hot as the Arizona desert to take an early lead.
Kylan Becker opened the game with a single to left field and then stole second on a third strike to Abbey Latham. Autumn Gillespie followed with a walk and both runners stole a base to put runners on second and third as Jessica Puk struck out.
Kylee Horton then sent a soft chopper that shortstop Jessie Harper could not handle and Becker scored to put the Rebels ahead 1-0. Finney followed with a walk to load the bases with two outs.
McQuillin battled back to get Tate Whitley to line to left to end the inning.
Arizona countered in its half of the first. Alyssa Palomina-Cardoza opened the frame by reaching on an infield hit, but she was erased when Mikayla Allee stayed with a tough grounder and was able to step on second as Harper reached first.
Malia Martinez followed with a shot down the third-base line that Whitley had trouble with in the outfield to allow Harper to score the tying run and Martinez ended up at third with one out.
Finney bounced back to fan Dejah Mulipola to record the second out of the inning and then caught Rylee Pierce looking to retire the side.
The Rebs regained the lead in the second. After the first two batters struck out, Becker struck again with another single. Latham then sent a shot into the leftfield corner to score Becker and Latham slid in safely at third.
Gillespie went down swinging to end the inning, but Ole Miss had a 2-1 lead.
Arizona took advantage in its half of the inning. After two were out, back-to-back infield hits and an error put runners at the corners. Palomina-Cardoza barely missed a run-scoring hit when her shot inched just foul by first base, but on the next pitch she sent a bullet down the third-base line to plate the tying run.
Finney kept her composure to get Harper to line to Horton to avoid the Wildcats from having a big inning.
Ole Miss had a chance for a big inning of its own in the third. But the Rebs could not take advantage of a pair of hits, a walk and a hit batter and left the bases loaded without scoring a run. In the first three innings, Ole Miss left seven runners on base.
Martinez opened the Wildcats’ third by perfectly placing a ball in front of Horton in right for a lead-off double. Finney followed by recording her third strikeout of the game and then coaxing a ground out. An easy fly ball to center ended the threat without Arizona being able to score.
Arizona did take the lead an inning later. Hanah Bowen led off with a single and was sacrificed to second. Carli Campbell then used the rock hard infield to send a high hopper to first which she beat out for a hit and send Bowen to third.
Palomina-Cardoza’s fly ball to Horton allowed Bowen to score the lead run. Harper followed with a single up the middle and a Finney wild pitch moved runners to second and third.
Malia Martinez then sent a single up the middle to score Campbell, but Becker’s throw to the plate cut down Harper attempting to score, but the Wildcats took a 4-2 lead.
Pierce opened the fifth with a one-out shot off the hard infield that got past Puk and into right field. She moved to second on another high bouncer to short and when Allee decided to try to get her at second, Pierce moved to third when the throw sailed into the outfield.
Pierce scored on Hannah Martinez’ single to put the Cats up 5-2 at the end of the fifth and close out the scoring.
Becker led the Rebels’ offense going 2-for-4 with a pair of stolen bases, while Malia Martinez was 4-for-4 for the Wildcats with a couple of doubles.
• Swiping a pair of bases in the first inning, Kylan Becker became Ole Miss single season stolen bases record holder with 34 in 2019.
• Becker has registered a hit in each game of the 2019 NCAA Softball Championship, extending her hitting-streak to six games.
• The 12 wildcat hits are the most surrendered by Ole Miss this postseason.
The two teams meet again Saturday at 7 p.m. The game is slated to be aired on ESPN2.
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.