Oregon State softball coach Laura Berg says McKenna Arriola is a dynamic player who has the ability to make a big difference in any game she plays.
The Beavers’ junior shortstop did just that on Saturday.
Arriola delivered what turned out to be the deciding blow — a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to put the Beavers up 4-1 before they held on for a 4-3 Pac-12 win over Stanford at the OSU Softball Complex.
The win assures the Beavers (24-18, 6-8) of the series win and they will go for the sweep of the Cardinal (17-24, 0-14) at noon on Sunday.
“We’re just having fun,” said Arriola, who had two hits on Saturday. “It’s easy to play and mesh together. Plays just happen when you’re having fun. I think that’s just what’s happening is were just really feeling each other and it’s all coming together. At a good time, too.”
The Beavers, who are battling to stay in position to possibly make the postseason, have now won four straight — three in conference play — and eight of 11 overall.
“I think any time that you get a win, I’m always going to be happy,” Berg said. “Especially here in the Pac-12. Like I said (Friday), any team is tough to beat and it’s always going to be a battle. And (the Cardinal) are the most dangerous team in the Pac-12 to me because they’ve got nothing to lose and they’re looking to spoil our season.”
Case in point Saturday when the Cardinal failed to roll over after falling behind in the fifth thanks to Arriola’s homer.
Stanford cut it to 4-2 in the sixth on Kylie Sorenson’s homer to left.
That hit ended a streak of 11 straight batters retired by Oregon State senior lefty Taylor Cotton, who tossed a shutout in Friday’s win.
Whitney Burks made it 4-3 with a single off reliever Nerissa Eason before the freshman righty got a comebacker, that she knocked down with her bare hand, to end the sixth.
An inning later, Eason got Sorenson to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
“She’s great at doing that,” Arriola said of Eason. “She’s done it several times before. And it’s easy for her to pitch when she knows we have her back and us to play good when she has our back.”
Cotton went 5⅓ innings and allowed all three runs on four hits and one walk. She struck out four after collecting nine in Friday’s win.
Berg said it was just a gut decision to throw Cotton again on Saturday.
“We just talked about it (Friday) and she looked great, had nine strikeouts so why not?” Berg said. “Let’s just go for it and see what happens.”
Stanford took a 1-0 lead in the second on an RBI double off the base of the fence in left by Lauren Bertoy. It could have been worse but Arriola’s relay throw to the plate nailed Burks for the second out.
After the double by Bertoy, Cotton retired 11 straight before Sorenson’s homer in the sixth.
The Beavers got the run back in the bottom of the inning on a sacrifice fly from Lovie Lopez that drove in Natalie Hampton, who walked and went to third on Sami Noland’s single.
The Beavers seemed to take control in the fifth.
After Stephanie Merwin worked a walk to open the frame, Kayleen Shafer walked on four straight before Arriola crushed an offering over the left field fence for a 4-1 lead.
It was the second homer of the season for Arriola, who said she just got her pitch.
“I wasn’t trying to hit it over, it just happens that way,” she said. “Just trying to get it to the outfield and score a run because we were tied at the time. I just wanted to get the runner at (second) in.”
Berg called it perfect timing for Arriola to come up clutch.
“It was a bunt situation and she drew them in and then she hit it over their heads,” Berg said. “That’s what makes McKenna so dangerous is she is a triple threat. She’s can do it all.”
After Jessica Garcia and Hampton walked, Noland made a bid to blow the game open. But her deep shot to left was hauled in on the warning track to end the inning.
Berg and Arriola said the Beavers need to make some adjustments at the plate in order to get the sweep on Sunday. They finished with just five hits on Saturday.
“We didn’t hit terrible but definitely there’s room for improvement,” Arriola said. “Just wake up a little bit earlier and get it started.”