Chelsie Mesa capped a 2-for-3 night at the plate with her three-run home run in the fifth inning as Arizona won its second straight national title with a 5-0 win over Tennessee Wednesday night at the Women’s College World Series.
Arizona (50-14-1) claimed its eighth national title by rallying to win the final two games of the best-of-three championship series. The Wildcats, who faced five elimination games in the tournament, matched the feat that was previously accomplished when Michigan defeated UCLA twice in 2005 during the first year of the new format.
“I’m proud of this team. This was by far one of the most memorable Women’s College World Series I’ve been through because of the grit, focus, relaxation and the fire,” UA head coach Mike Candrea said. “(Taryne Mowatt) and the seniors stepped up. When you start the year and talk about the process, you hope your players believe in the process. It culminated with one of our best games of the year at the right time. That is kind of what the perfect season is. I never saw doubt in my kids’ eyes. They went out and had fun.”
Mowatt garnered the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honors as she allowed seven hits and struck out 11 in the complete-game shutout.
The 11 K’s pushed Mowatt, who threw 1,035 pitches in eight games over seven days, past former teammate Alicia Hollowell for the most strikeouts in a WCWS with 76. The strikeout mark also pushed her past Monica Abbott, who ended the tournament with 75 K’s after her seven-strikeout performance Wednesday night.
“I went up to (Taryne’s) mother after the game and said ‘Where’s dad at.’ She said he’s back at home. I told her to tell him thank you for what he told me,” Candrea said. “Last year he said ‘Hang in there with her and she will give you some special moments.’ I watched her grow as a pitcher. Nancy (Evans) did a nice job developing her and talking to her between innings. I can’t remember seeing a grittier performance than what she had. Everything was on her shoulders, and she did it.”
“I definitely put myself into a lot of tough situations. The whole time I just stuck with it,” Mowatt said. “A lot of them were a base hit here and they accumulated walks. I just stuck with it and let them hit it into the defense. I knew my defense was behind me to make the plays. Before someone told me the other night, I had no idea how many pitches I had thrown. I will admit now that I am extremely tired. My arm has felt better.”
Mowatt had the leadoff hitter reach on her in all but the first and seventh innings, but she once again managed to work out of UT scoring threats. A night after stranding 14 runners in Arizona’s win, Tennessee left 12 on base Wednesday night. The Lady Vols left 12 runners in scoring position over the last two games.
“Monica pitched well-enough to win a national championship, but we left too many runners in scoring position,” UT head coach Ralph Weekly said. “All it would have taken was a sacrifice fly or a single to end it, and we just couldn’t get it done. When I coached the Olympic team in 1996 and 2000, the head coach, Ralph Raymond, said the most important stat in the game is an RBI. That is the thing that got us. We couldn’t get the key hit when we needed it.”
The five-run fifth inning matched the most runs Monica Abbott had allowed in her previous 90 innings of work. Abbott finished her career with a 50-5 record and set the career record for wins, strikeouts and shutouts.
Caitlin Lowe started the inning off as she singled to reach base for the third time in as many at-bats. Lowe finished the game a perfect 4-for-4 as the seniors (Lowe, Fox and Mesa) finished the night a collective 7-for-9 at the plate.
“It’s a confirmation that they have matured. Their approach to the game and preparation is huge. I have an opportunity to see their progress through the year and to see it culminate tonight. For a coach, that’s more special than anything. They kept calm, cool and composed, and they believed. I said the other night that as long as we have innings, we have a chance. I don’t think many people gave us much of a chance because we knew we were facing a good pitcher and a team that this was their year to put it all together. It took a special effort from our group to overcome that, and we did.”
K’Lee Arredondo followed with another base hit to right, and the ball got away from UT right fielder Nicole Kajitani, who was making her first start of the tournament, to advance the runners to second and third. After intentionally walking Kristie Fox, who tied the series record for the most hits, Jenae Leles came through with a single up the middle that scored Lowe and Arredondo to put UA up 2-0.
“I didn’t hesitate because I knew she (Abbott) was going to throw the ball near or around the plate,” Leles said. “I knew she wasn’t going to walk me, so I swung at the first pitch and it went through. I took it as an insult that they walked Kristie (Fox) to get to me. I knew that I wanted to get the ball on the ground somewhere.”
Mesa capped the inning as she followed immediately with a towering three-run home run over the fence in right that gave the Wildcats the 5-0 edge. The deciding home run was especially sweet for Mesa, as it more than made up for the error that cost the Wildcats in the 1-0 loss to Tennessee nearly a week ago.
“It felt awesome,” Mesa said. “I had yet to make good contact off Monica. She threw me the same pitch probably like 50 times before that. I stepped out of the box and said that she wasn’t going to blow it by me again. She didn’t, and it was hard for me to take my eye off the ball until I reached first base. As soon as it went over, I was probably the happiest person out there. I’m glad I was able to help my team out.”
She also played a big role in the Wildcats making it to the championship series, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs scored in the deciding win over Washington.
Following the five-run burst by Arizona, UT had a chance to cut into the lead in the sixth. A walk by Shannon Doepking led the inning off, and Alexia Clay followed with a single. Following a fly-out by Liane Horiuchi, Kenora Posey singled to load the bases.
Mowatt once again worked out of the jam as she got all-tournament performer India Chiles to fly out and struck out pinch-hitter Danielle Pieroni.
“I am extremely proud of every one of my players. I think they fought really, really hard,” Weekly said.
Tennessee finished the season 60-8, including a .887 winning percentage that ranks as the highest in the program’s history.
A crowd of 5,533 watched the Wildcats clinch the title. Wednesday night's numbers brought the total series attendance to 62,463, which stands 16,341 more than the previous record set last year.
WCWS All-Tournament Team
Monica Abbott, Tennessee
Ashley Charters, Washington
India Chiles, Tennessee
Kristie Fox, Arizona
Danielle Lawrie, Washington
Jenae Leles, Arizona
Caitlin Lowe, Arizona
Ashley Monceaux, Baylor
Lindsay Schutzler, Tennessee
Dena Tyson, Washington
Tammy Williams, Northwestern
Most Outstanding Player: Taryne Mowatt, Arizona