Arizona Wanting To Stay Present Heading Into Supers
TUCSON, Arizona – Two teams take the field at Hillenbrand Stadium this week seeking a program-defining moment.
For the visitors, the No. 11 Ole Miss Rebels (41-18), the goal is simple. Already having, perhaps, the greatest season in school history, if they can stun No. 6 Arizona (45-12) in the best-of-three series, they will seal their first-ever trip to the Women’s College World Series. It’s a blossoming program headed by an energetic coach, Mike Smith, ready to make his mark.
For the Wildcats, a super regional title could mean something different, returning the program to where it belongs and a start of a new era.
It’s been nine years since Arizona made it to Oklahoma City, a drought that once seemed impossible for one of the sport’s most successful programs. The Wildcats have won eight national titles, four fewer than UCLA, but double the amount of any other program. Through it all the same man, coach Mike Candrea has headed the ship, and he’s perennially had his Wildcats in the upper echelon of the sport, regardless of if they made it Oklahoma City.
But Candrea said he’s not the type of person to “live in the past.”
“And I don’t live in the future,” he added.
That just leaves the present, and presently, the Wildcats have developed a knack for ending seasons in frustrating fashion.
In those eight missed opportunities to reach the WCWS, Arizona has been stopped short in the super regional seven times. That includes two seasons ago, when No. 15 Baylor eliminated the No. 2 Wildcats on their home turf.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing, and I have disappointments,” Candrea said. “But if you coach for 40 years, you’re going to have many of those. Sometimes you learn a lot about yourself in the tough moments.”
Arizona senior pitcher Taylor McQuillin has been though plenty of those as well.
She was in the circle when Baylor scored three runs in the seventh inning of a 6-5 stunner, ending the Wildcats’ 2017 season. For her, making this weekend bigger than three games spells trouble.
“These are big moments,” McQuillin said. “But these are the situations we want to be in. These are the moments we have worked our whole careers for. This isn’t the time to get tightened up, or go out there and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what if we fail?”
McQuillin pointed to Arizona’s depth as to why she believes the team will avoid that destructive mindset. In the regional, her backup, Alyssa Denham picked up a win over Auburn. Another senior pitcher, Gina Snyder, carries a 5-0 record with victories over No. 2 UCLA and No. 4 Florida State.
Offensively, Arizona has a stacked deck. Seven players are hitting better than .300 and four of them have hit double-digit home runs, including Jessie Harper with a NCAA-leading 28.
“Every team that I have played on has been different in my four years here,” McQuillin said. “Earlier this year, we struggled a little bit with tightness and ‘Oh my gosh, what if we fail?’ But now we have so many people who can get the job done. We have so many people we can rely on with this team.”