It’s all about timing for Izzy Pacho.
The redshirt junior waited patiently for three years for her opportunity to be penciled into the starting lineup.
As this season wore on, she proved that she belonged in the hot corner – making the improbable catches look easy.
So easy that last weekend, her spectacular leaning over the fence catch made the top three plays of the day on “SportsCenter.”
Fortunately for the Wildcats, it’s not just Pacho’s defensive prowess that shines through. She’s come up clutch numerous times this season with big hits and home runs.
None was bigger than her eighth inning solo shot over the left-field fence to give Arizona a 3-2 win over Mississippi State in Game 1 of the Starkville Super Regional on Friday.
Arizona (37-20) is now one win away from going back to the Women’s College World Series for the third time in four years — and the first time in the Caitlin Lowe coaching era. The two teams will play again Saturday at 1 p.m. The Wildcats can clinch a spot in the WCWS with a win either Saturday or Sunday, while the Bulldogs need to win two straight.
More than 2,000 fans — a Mississippi State attendance record — watched as the two teams battled for nearly 3½ hours before Arizona prevailed.
“She’s steady (Pacho) and I don’t think it’s on game day, it’s on every single day,” Lowe said.
“When someone is like that you’re not surprised when they come through at the moment. I told ESPN before the weekend (what they asked) what’s something special we don’t know about your team? And I said, ‘Well, the one that gets overlooked the most is Izzy Pacho. She’s been there every single day for this team showing us the way and she’s a trailblazer that we follow. (She) doesn’t get the respect that she deserves.’ I just truly feel like she has been leading the team so it’s not surprising and she was ready for her moment when she got it.”
Pacho, who went 2 for 4, said she didn’t have a great week of batting practice. She relied on Lowe and her teammates to keep her calm and ready for the moment.
“Shar (Palacios) talked to me and said, ‘Keep it simple,’ so I took a deep breath,” Pacho said. “My pitch, it just felt good off the bat. There are no words to describe it. You hit it and it’s one of the best feelings in the world.”
Her approach was just to have a quality at-bat and hit it solidly. And as it turns out, her double down the left-field line in the sixth inning and the home run, were the “best at-bats of my career.”
“I felt like I calmed myself down. I was slow and I trusted everything that I had. It was just awesome,” Pacho said.
Hanah Bowen was called upon once again and pitched another complete game — her third of the postseason. She had 156 pitches — now 400 over the last three games — and struck out four. She walked six and gave up three hits despite a nagging hip injury that had her limping in the circle at times as the game wore on.
However, there was no taking the ball from her in this game.
“I feel connected to when she’s locked in and getting hitters out and even when she doesn’t have her best stuff, but she knows she can beat people,” Lowe said. “I trust her with the ball every single time in that moment.”
Bowen went 11 consecutive innings in the postseason without giving up a run before a no-doubter from Mia Davidson hit the camera tower in center field in the bottom of the fifth to give MSU a 1-0 lead. Davidson now joins Kati Mauga and Jessie Harper with 92 career home runs for third on the NCAA list.
Bowen got out of numerous jams by relying on her defense — from Paige Dimler’s cross-body catch with the sun in her eyes in right field in that same fifth inning to one more Wildcat catch that went viral. Last week it was Pacho’s catch in foul territory, this time it was Janelle Meoño’s turn.
In the first inning, Davidson crushed one to dead center field that looked to be gone. However, Meoño ran back to the wall and timed her leap perfectly to catch the ball just over the wall to rob Davidson.
Lowe said the Wildcats’ defense is their “biggest momentum builder.”
“I thought Janelle fist-pumped four times on one catch and it fired us up. (Davidson) hit a ball to the fence and that should have been their momentum and we used it to our advantage and made it our momentum. I thought that was big time,” Lowe said.
Each time the Bulldogs scored, the Wildcats responded. After Davidson’s blast in the fifth, Allie Skaggs crushed one to right field to tie it at 1-1 in the top of the sixth. Matalasi Faapito hit a solo shot in the bottom of the inning to give MSU a 2-1 lead. UA came right back in the top of the seventh as Palacios hit a sacrifice fly to center to bring home Giulia Koutsoyanopulos, a pinch runner for Blaise Biringer, who had walked.
Sophia Carroll reached on a single and a catcher interference call and Meoño (3 for 4) had an infield single to load the bases for Palacios. A 1-2-3 seventh inning for the Bulldogs sent the game into extra innings.
It was a pitcher’s duel for much of the game.
The Wildcats finally got to starter Annie Willis late. She started out striking out three Wildcats in the first, then only had two more the rest of the way. She gave up seven hits, walked two and had two earned runs.
“The pitchers that started, Bo and Willis, they just threw their hearts out,” Lowe said. “It took a while to get going because they were comfortable, and they were grooving. I thought us keeping our heads screwed on and really just grinding at the plate.
“Bo finding a way in every situation was just so clutch. I give a lot of props to them. They fought hard, so did we. We were really able to come through when our backs were against the wall which is nice to see.”
— After striking out four times on Wednesday in a first-round WAC tournament win over Abilene Christian, Juan Colato drove a slider into center field with two outs in the ninth, scoring Jonny Weaver from second and giving Grand Canyon a 4-3 win over a tough Lamar squad Thursday night at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa. The win moved GCU (41-17) into Friday’s WAC semifinal at 7 p.m.
— Arizona couldn’t cool off the hottest team in the Pac-12 Thursday, losing 15-8 to No. 1 seed Stanford on day 2 of the Pac-12 tournament at Scottsdale Stadium. The loss set up an elimination game Friday against Arizona State. The winner will face the Cardinal at 9 a.m. Saturday.