It was a gritty performance in all three phases of the game as Arizona clawed its way to a 5-3 victory over Auburn in game 1, moving the Wildcats one win away from Oklahoma City and the Women's College World Series.
Junior left-hander Danielle O'Toole did what she has done all postseason for the Wildcats: dominate. O'Toole pitched a two-hitter with five strikeouts against one of the nation’s top offenses. She limited the Tigers, who entered the weekend tied for the NCAA-lead, averaging 8.31 runs/game, to just three runs, two of which were unearned.
The offense did the rest, piling up nine hits, mostly of the infield variety, against two Auburn pitchers. The Wildcats used their speed to overwhelm the Auburn defense. Arizona struck for one run in the third, one in the fifth and three go-ahead runs in the sixth to come back from a 2-1 deficit.
Mo Mercado batted in three runs for the Cats continuing to provide Arizona with big at-bats in big situations. Eva Watson went 2-for-2 and scored three of Arizona's five runs.
O'Toole improved to 26-10 on the season, including a 4-0 mark in the Wildcats' four games this postseason.
The Wildcats entered this postseason with a 1-12 record in their last 13 postseason games away from Hillenbrand Stadium, and not a single super regional victory in that span. In four games in 2016, the Wildcats are 4-0, all coming on the road, three of which were to SEC opponents.
Now, Arizona is one win away from returning the WCWS, where it hasn't been since 2010. UA is in search of its 23rd trip overall the Women's College World Series.
Without hitting the ball out of the infield in the third, the Cats scratched across the first run of the game, utilizing their speed to challenge the Auburn defense. Eva Watson and Mandie Perez recorded infield singles to begin the inning before Ashleigh Hughes advanced the runners with a groundout. Mo Mercado followed with a groundout to short, but Watson dashed home to score on the play and give the Cats a 1-0 lead.
A trio of defensive miscues led to two Auburn runs in the third.
The Cats utilized small ball once again in the fifth to tie the game. After Watson led off the frame with a walk, she moved to second on a groundout and third on an infield single. Mo Mercado notched an infield single to plate Watson and tie the game.
As O'Toole continued to cruise after her rocky third, the Arizona offense continued to pressure Auburn starter Kaylee Carlson, eventually knocking her from the game with back-to-back one-out singles in the sixth. Her replacement, Rachael Walters, didn't fare much better, as she would yield a single and a hit-by-pitch to give the Wildcats the lead before an error and fielder's choice brought in two more to put the Cats up 5-3.
Auburn used a solo home run to cut the lead to two in the seventh, but that would be as close as the Tigers would come. O'Toole shut the door with three straight outs to win the game.
Up Next: Arizona and Auburn decide the series on Sunday. Game 2 of the Super Regional will begin at 11 a.m. MST on ESPN. Should Auburn force a third game, the if-necessary game would be 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game, and televised on ESPNU.
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