Arizona Daily Wildcat
Second-largest crowd in Stadium history watches UA's 6-2 victory
It took Leneah Manuma more than nine months for an opportunity to show her power to the Oklahoma softball team.
Apparently, it was worth the wait.
The freshman from San Diego hit a pair of two-out, two-run home runs yesterday leading the No. 2 Wildcats to a 6-2 victory against defending national champion and fifth-ranked Oklahoma. The win allowed Arizona to clinch the Hillenbrand Invitational title before the second-largest crowd -2,751- to see a game at Hillenbrand Stadium.
With the victory, Arizona (27-0) also avenged its most noteworthy defeat from the 2000 season - a 1-0 loss to the Sooners in the semifinals of the College World Series. Yesterday's win was particularly sweet for Manuma, who used her medical redshirt season a year ago after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in October 1999.
Because of the injury, Manuma was forced to watch the season's loss from the bench.
"It was awesome to come out finally and be able to play," she said.
Manuma's first shot came in the bottom of the first inning. With two outs, senior Toni Mascarenas hit a fly ball deep into left-center field. Sooners center fielder Erin Evans set up underneath the ball to make a play, but left fielder Christy Ring ran into her, causing the ball to drop and Mascarenas to reach second base safely.
Manuma made the Sooners (17-3) pay for their mistake by hitting a changeup over the right field wall for her 11th home run of the season, giving Arizona a 2-1 lead.
The Sooners plated their run in the top half of the inning when UA junior Jennie Finch walked a batter with the bases loaded.
Oklahoma tied the game at 2 in the top of the third inning on a run-scoring double by Ashli Barrett.
Arizona, though, got another two-out rally in the bottom of the inning to take the lead for good. After seniors Lauren Bauer and Nicole Giordano retired, Mascarenas reached base again - this time on a walk - bringing Manuma to the plate.
Because Manuma hit her first home run in right field, Sooners' head coach Patty Gasso pitched the left-handed hitter on the outside part of the plate.
Manuma responded by hitting a line-drive homer over the left-center field fence.
"I was just trying to hit the ball where it's pitched, that's what I've been trying to do lately - just hit the ball hard, and that's what I did," Manuma said.
Gasso said Manuma's ability to adjust to the placement of Sooners' pitcher Adrianne Ratliff made the difference in the game.
"She did a great job in hitting that outside pitch over the fence, and I think she heard that the changeup was coming on her first at-bat," Gasso said. "She was a tough out, there's no doubt."
Manuma admitted after the game that UA assistant coach Nancy Evans tipped her off that a changeup was coming from Ratliff.
Evans said she stole the Sooners' sign and relayed it to Manuma, though she declined to say if Mascarenas, who was on second base at the time, gave it to her.
Freshman Kim Balkan closed out the scoring in the fourth inning with Arizona's third two-out, two-run homer. Her shot to left-center field scored senior Allison Andrade, who had singled one batter earlier.
"I waited for batting practice to see who I was going to put in that ninth spot, and (Balkan) hit the ball very well this morning," UA head coach Mike Candrea said.
Finch, who upped her record to 9-0, cruised after the third inning, allowing two Sooners to reach base. Finch finished the game giving up four hits while striking out seven batters and walking three.
Although she finished strong, Finch began the game in a much different fashion. Ring, the Sooners' lead-off hitter, reached base on a fielding error by Mascarenas. Finch walked two-time All-American Lisa Carey with one out and gave up a two-out single to Barrett loading the bases.
She then walked Evans for the Sooners' unearned run.
"I don't know if I was rattled, but this was the first time my anxiety was flowing that much," she said. "I was kind of out of my body, like, 'Come on, lets get these three outs and come back in so we can score.'"
While yesterday's contest had the atmosphere of a College World Series game, the Wildcats breezed through their four earlier games. Freshman Jenny Gladding excelled in the pitching circle and at the plate as Arizona defeated Indiana State 12-0 Saturday afternoon.
Gladding (8-0) threw a no-hitter against the Sycamores, and slugged two home runs driving in three runs for the Wildcats. Freshman Mackenzie Vandergeest, Mascarenas and Andrade also homered in the victory.
Later Saturday evening, Arizona defeated Western Michigan 12-0 behind senior Becky Lemke's one-hit performance. Finch went 2-for-3 with a home run and five RBI in the win.
Arizona had little trouble handling No. 22 Baylor Friday in its first game of the tournament. Andrade hit two long balls, Bauer had an inside-the-park home run, and Finch tossed a one-hit shut-out to lead the Wildcats to an 8-0 win against the Bears.
That night, Lemke (10-0) tossed another one-hitter and Balkan hit a grand slam as Arizona defeated Creighton, Neb., 9-0.
After this weekend's five wins, Arizona has outscored its opponents 257-12.