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Arizona Overcomes Shaky Start To Win Game 1

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(Photo Courtesy of Arizona Athletics)

TUCSON, Arizona – Ole Miss just wasn’t ready.

Neither was Arizona.

But as the two teams booted around the ball through the first couple of innings Friday in the Tucson Super Regional, the Wildcats had a clear advantage. They had less to overcome, playing at home, in front a sold-out crowd, with a confident senior, Taylor McQuillin, in the circle and one of the sport’s greatest coaches, Mike Candrea, in the dugout.

So, when McQuillin’s drop ball slipped past Jessica Puk to seal the 5-2 victory for the Wildcats, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. After chaos reigned at the start, Arizona settled and got the production it needed to pull within one win of its first Women’s College World Series berth since 2010.

“Pressure is a privilege,” Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza said. “We’ve learned that we’re going to fail at times, and even when that happens, we know we have eight other people in the lineup that can come up and do it.”

Cardoza flipped the switch in the second inning.

Arizona trailed 2-1 when she stepped into the batter’s box for the second time with two outs and runners on second and third. She watched a ball and literally jumped out of the box. She was way ahead of the next pitch and swung over a ball in the dirt.

Backing away, the junior lead off hitter said a prayer and after two more foul balls, slapped an RBI single to left to tie the game.

“As a coach, there’s not much you can really do,” Candrea said. “It’s about getting through the first couple of innings and being able to settle down a little bit.”

Ole Miss never had a similar moment.

After the Rebels scored the game’s first run on an error by shortstop Jessie Harper, Puk, the Ole Miss second baseman, chucked a ball past first and Tate Whitley mishandled a ball hit to left to allow a run to score. A fielding error led to another run in the second inning, and coach Mike Smith’s team committed two more errors later in the game.

On top of that, four of Arizona’s 12 hits never left the infield and Ole Miss left eight runners on base.

“Arizona beat us at our own game today,” Smith said. “I don’t know how many balls were hit hard, deep or to the outfield. We just need to do a better job of fielding those ground balls and being a little more crisp.

“At this stage of the year, good teams are going to take advantage of that.”

McQuillin provided the difference.

She allowed just two runs, one earned, on five hits and four walks with seven strikeouts. She was aggressive in the big moments, jumping ahead in counts when runners were in scoring position.

“Instead of worrying toward the last part of the game, she was attacking and getting stronger,” Candrea said. “That’s what you need this time of year.”

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