Friday, May 10, 2019

Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza's Homer Sparks Arizona Win Over UCLA, 5-3

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2019 at 9:31 AM

click to enlarge Taylor McQuillin allowed three runs in seven innings of work against the UCLA Bruins on Thursday, May 9. - CHRISTOPHER BOAN
  • Christopher Boan
  • Taylor McQuillin allowed three runs in seven innings of work against the UCLA Bruins on Thursday, May 9.
Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza stepped up to the plate inside Westwood's Easton Stadium in the top of the seventh with a chance to be the hero.

The redshirt junior outfielder was looking to do damage in a tie game with mighty UCLA, who had beat the Wildcats in five-straight games dating back to 2017.

Palomino-Cardoza was waiting for a single mistake from UCLA's world-class starting pitcher, Rachel Garcia, who entered the night with an unblemished 20-0 record in the pitcher's circle.

Garcia, while intimidating, was far from perfect on Thursday, throwing a belt-high changeup that Palomino-Cardoza crushed over the robin's egg blue center field wall, giving Arizona a 5-3 lead they'd never surrender.

The redshirt junior described her final at-bat against Garcia in her postgame comments, taking everyone through what she saw in her final plate appearance.

"I'm just in there keeping it simple. I felt my eyes were good all night, so just to see the ball down, and find a pitch to drive," Palomino-Cardoza said. "And, I saw the 0-2 changeup and I just took a stab at it and put everything I had into it. I knew off the bat it felt sweet."

The road to Palomino-Cardoza game-winning home run was long and twisty on a damp evening in northwest Los Angeles.

The Bruins (45-4, 19-3) struck first in the game's opening inning, when Garcia hit an RBI single to give the Bruins a 1-0 edge.

UCLA was able to load the bases in the first off Arizona pitcher Taylor McQuillin with one out when a routine fly ball turned into an inning-ending double play.

The lead Bruin on the basepaths was ruled to have left third base early on the fly-out, which led to her run being disallowed and the inning coming to an abrupt end.

That bit of fortune would serve the Wildcats well in the long-run, as McQuillin would settle down and the Wildcats bats would wake up.

The opening salvo for Mike Candrea's squad came in the top of the fourth, when senior Rylee Pierce laced a Garcia pitch over the right field wall to tie the game at 1.

The Bruins would regain the lead in their half of the fourth, after an RBI single by leadoff hitter Bubba Nickles and a solo homer by Briana Tautalafua to take a 3-1 lead.

The Wildcats struck back in a big way in the top of the fifth, however, when shortstop Jessie Harper crushed a pitch into the netting behind the left field fence for a game-tying, two-run home run.

Those episodes set the stage for Palomino-Cardoza's at-bat to remember, giving the Wildcats (41-11, 18-4) a fighting chance at tying the Bruins for a Pac-12 title.

"We come here to get the sweep, knowing that doing so would get us a share of the conference title, but we knew we could do it," Palomino-Cardoza said. "You know, we can sweep this team and we're strong enough and we're going to put up a fight. We won't go down easy."

Candrea's postgame remarks summed up the assortment of emotions that swirled through the ballpark on Thursday night.

For the longtime Arizona coach, his team's ability to finally thwart the Bruins, and to do so on UCLA's home field, shows what this team can do.

Candrea touched on how badly the Wildcats needed Thursday's win, given how they were swept in Tucson by the Washington Huskies a week ago.

"It was huge in a lot of ways. I mean, number one, we needed a victory. I mean, after last weekend," Candrea said. "But I think the big thing is how we played and how Taylor [McQuillin] pitched. I kind of saw a different gear in her the last couple innings, and going in the postseason, we have to play like that that."

Candrea's mention of McQuillin was apt, given the senior's strong showing in the series opener, with the southpaw taming a vicious Bruins lineup for much of the night.

McQuillin finished the night with eight hits, three earned runs, four walks and six strikeouts to her credit.

What the box score doesn't convey, according to Candrea, is how hard the senior worked to stay one step ahead of the Bruins in the opener.

"I think that it's been part of our process. I think we had a long discussion after last week, and the big thing is trying to embrace the pressure situations and being able to control yourself, and stay in the attack mode," Candrea said. "I think she did all those things."

McQuillin touched on the team's mindset against UCLA, with the Wildcats looking to do whatever they could to snap their three-game losing streak.

"I think there was a different energy and a different vibe with our team today and on and off the field, in the dugout, everybody was on cylinders ready to go," McQuillin said. "We just kind of kept chipping away, and we got the key hits at the right time and really shut the door down."

McQuillin, who upped her record to 20-7 for the season, heaped praise on her teammates for their ability to tame the mighty Bruins for the first time since May 7, 2017.

"We had some amazing plays in the outfield today. A couple key plays that really helped us out too, so it's a great feeling, but it's not done yet," McQuillin said. "We've got two more games left; we've got to come out and do it tomorrow and then finish off on Saturday."

The final two games of the series are at 5 p.m. on Friday and noon on Saturday, with the Pac-12 Network carrying both contests. 

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