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Arizona (38-17) socked 14 hits to beat Notre Dame (40-16), 8-3, to win the NCAA Softball Championships regional on May 20 and earn a trip to Norman, Okla. for a Super Regional against the Oklahoma Sooners this weekend.
Arizona, the No. 13 seed in the NCAA Championships, will meet the No. 4 seed Sooners (48-8) in the first game of the Super Regional at 11 a.m. (MST/PDT) on May 25, with the second and potential final game in the best-of-three series slated to start at 9 a.m. (MST/PDT) on May 26. Friday's game will be televised by ESPNU, and Saturday's action will be on ESPN.
Arizona and Oklahoma have met three times in NCAA Super Regional action. The Wildcats defeated the Sooners in 2005 and 2008 in Tucson on their way to the Women's College World Series, while Oklahoma got the better of Arizona last year, sweeping the Cats at Hillenbrand.
Shelby Babcock (21-9) gave up seven hits against the Irish, walked one and struck out three for a steady performance in the circle and her teammates clouted four home runs, two by Chelsea Goodacre, to keep the UA on top.
The Wildcats batted around in the second and put up the first runs with two out. Jessica Spigner walked, Kristen Arriola singled to left, and Chelsea Suitos' slap single up the middle scored Spigner. Hallie Wilson followed with a dink single just over second base that scored Arriola and Suitos. Brigette Del Ponte collected her seventh NCAA hit with a single to left to drive in Buchanan.
The Irish got on the board in the third. Chloe Saganowich doubled, Jenna Simon singled her to third, and she scored on a sacrifice fly by Alexa Maldonadouto. Kelsey Thorton beat out an infield hit to put runners on the corners, but UA shortstop Shelby Pendley cut down Simon at the plate to save a run off Amy Buntin's grounder.
Arizona benefitted from a runner's interference call in the fourth, otherwise Saganowich's two-run homer could have been a grand slam in the fourth. Emilee Koerner walked but was called for interfering with Pendley's throw to first after being forced out on Katey Haus' grounder. Kasey O'Connor singled and then Saganowich socked her second home run of the year to cut the UA's lead to 4-3.
Goodacre and Spigner added solo home runs in the top of the seventh to give the UA its final runs, and chased Notre Dame's Laura Winter (29-11).
The victory gave the UA a mark of 78-6 in NCAA Regional action over its 26 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Softball Championships.
Notre Dame Head Coach Deanna Gumpf:
"I give Arizona a lot of credit. When Laura missed a pitch, they would jump on it. If we could have kept the ball in the yard all game, we would have had a good chance to win the game today."
"Arizona is a very good team. If they keep hitting the ball like they did this weekend, they will be successful. With the lineup they have, and if the pitchers can keep them in the game, then they will be good. A sign of a good team is that they have weapons throughout the whole lineup, and that is what they have."
Notre Dame Sophomore Shortstop Chloe Saganowich:
"We are not the type of team to go out without a fight. It would have been nice to come out on top and stay on top, but that didn't go our way today. We definitely don't back down as a team though."
"Babcock did a nice job of keeping us off balance today. I feel like we did adjust well to her as the game went on, but we didn't score as much as we would have liked to. She did a really nice job today."
Arizona Head Coach Mike Candrea:
"This was the weekend we've been working to see all year. We really put it all together, pitched well, and made timely hits. Obviously there were a couple defensive blunders, but the overall energy and focus I saw was something I wish we had earlier this season. Overall I'm pleased with everything I saw this weekend."
"We have a big challenge coming up in the Norman Super Regional, but we're looking forward to it. If you beat Ricketts, you beat Oklahoma. This team is in a good place right now, and it's going to take a lot of effort, but I think we can get there."
"Going into the fifth inning, I told the team to stay together, and that we need some quality at bats. Goodacre made some quality adjustments, and it really helped us out."
"The key to this weekend was having production all the way down the lineup. We made a couple gambles that paid off, and it's just been a lot of fun for all of us."
Sophomore Shelby Babcock:
"It definitely gives me some confidence to have the lead in a game. I feel a lot more comfortable with my pitches, and right now we're in a good place."
"We knew the regional was going to be a dogfight, but we thought about it with a positive attitude that really showed in the final result."
Freshman Chelsea Goodacre:
"We're really on a roll as a team. We're keeping it fun right now and doing our best."
"Changing the lineup has really been a change for the better. Karissa Buchanan has been doing really well right now, and she starts us off in a good place."
Senior Kristen Arriola
"Having the lead gives us a lot of momentum to shut down their batters."
"Our field is really made for the slappers, and we really took advantage of that this weekend. I hope we can take our short game to Oklahoma."
"We've certainly had our ups and downs, but we're playing some of our best softball right now, and that's what we need to get ready for a dog fight in Norman."