May 28, 2010

By Patrick Finley
Special to

TUCSON, Ariz. - Kenzie Fowler wasn't perfect.

Sure, she struck out 10 in Friday night's 2-1 NCAA tournament super regional win against BYU. But the Arizona Wildcats freshman battled the whole way, allowing a base runner in every inning.

Not bad for someone with a tight forearm who threw 204 pitches Sunday.

"Fowler's always good," BYU coach Gordon Eakin said. "We hear a lot of stuff that she's hurt, and I'm sure she's got her pains, but even when she's hurt she's awfully good."

The Wildcats need to win one of two games Saturday to advance to their 22nd Women's College World Series in 23 years. The first game starts at 1:30 p.m. local time, with Game 3, if necessary, to follow.

Fowler's formula Friday - beat their best. She shut down BYU third baseman Angeline Quiocho, the NCAA's leader in home runs and RBIs per game, in all four plate appearances.

In the first, with a runner on first and one out, Quiocho struck out. She grounded out with a runner on second in the third, and whiffed with a runner on first in the fifth.

"We battled a very good Arizona team," Eakin said. "But losing is losing, no matter who you lose to, and it's tough to lose when we had our chances."

The final chance came in the seventh. The Cougars led off with a Kristin Delahoussaye single, but she was cut short at second on a failed sacrifice bunt. With a runner on first and one out, Fowler struck out a swinging Quiocho.

"That last inning was big with Quiocho up," Fowler said. "I know what kind of hitter she is. I mixed pretty well today."

It would have been easy for UA coach Mike Candrea to have Fowler intentionally walk Quiocho earlier in the game. That he didn't, gave Fowler confidence later.

"You don't want to give away too many at-bats, but you do want to be smart," she said. "I was very smart with her, I thought."

Two of the game's three runs were scored because of gaffes. The Wildcats put runners on first and third with two outs in the first inning when Brigette Del Ponte blooped a ball into shallow left field. Caschjen Davis-Atagi charged and shortstop J.C. Clayton retreated, and both collided.

The ball fell, and Lauren Schutzler scored the Wildcats' first run. The score stayed the same through five innings, with Fowler dancing out of trouble and BYU starter Paige Affleck retiring eight of nine at one point.

The Cougars tied it in the top of the sixth. With Tiffany Messerschmidt pinch-running at second, Delaney Willard singled to right field. Messerschmidt sprinted home, but was beat by a strong throw from the Wildcats' Karissa Buchanan. Catcher Stacie Chambers had it bounce away when she applied the tag.

"We dodged a bullet by having three errors," Candrea said. "I really believe at this time a year that the team that makes a mistake is usually the team that gets beat."

But the Wildcats parried in the bottom half with the eventual winner. Lini Koria - whose walk-off grand slam put the UA in this round - singled home Del Ponte with one out.

Now UA is one win away on Saturday from the WCWS.

"Hopefully," Candrea said, "we'll find more holes and score more runs."

The Cougars will try to play two more games - with help from their star, Quiocho.

"I'd put a milkshake on the line that Angie will come out and be a better hitter," Eakin said. "I like chocolate."