Before Friday, it had been 12 days since Arizona had played a game, though the last one was certainly a good win. The UA clinched the Pac-12 title with a win at UCLA on May 7.
UA coach Mike Candrea admitted he was “a little bit nervous” to see how Arizona would perform in Friday night’s NCAA regional opener against New Mexico State at Hillenbrand Stadium.
No worries, Coach.
“Kati put me at ease in the first inning,” Candrea said.
UA star Katiyana Mauga launched a home run to left-center field in the first, scoring Mandie Perez and giving the Wildcats an early jump on the Aggies. Arizona scored seven more runs in the third inning, eventually winning 11-0 in five innings. The No. 2-seeded Wildcats will play South Carolina at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Gamecocks beat St. Francis (Pennsylvania) 12-2 in five innings Friday.
Mauga said the 90th home run of her college career “felt good.” She is now tied with UCLA’s Stacey Nuveman for the Pac-12 career home run record.
“I just wanted to step in the box and get my timing down, especially since we’re used to getting our timing down with our pitchers,” Mauga said. “Seeing a different pitcher and just going in there, clearing my head, it just felt good. It felt like a good swing.”
The Wildcats opened the postseason without one of their top power hitters. Outfielder Alyssa Palomino tore her ACL in practice Wednesday, and won’t play again this season.
The Wildcats’ offense, which leads the nation in home runs and is third in scoring, was just fine without her. Arizona’s seven-run, third-inning scoring spurt started when designated player Tamara Statman doubled to right center, scoring Mauga and Mo Mercado.
Statman hadn’t drove in a run since the Wildcats won at New Mexico State on April 18 and was hitting just 6 of 34 (.176) in her previous eight games.
“It felt really good,” Statman said. “I was telling myself: ‘Just like Ray’ — he’s the guy who throws our (batting practice). This is the same thing we do on our field every day in batting practice so I was telling myself: ‘Just like Ray. Just like Ray. Just like Ray.’ It felt awesome to get a hit for my team.
“The game doesn’t care what you did before. It was just coming out every single pitch and making sure I’m giving it 100 percent.”
The Wildcats scored two more runs on a home run from freshman catcher Dejah Mulipola, her 12th of the season and first since April 18.
Perez, not known for her power-hitting prowess, later hit a three-run shot to right field, scoring Eva Watson and Ashleigh Hughes to give the UA a 9-0 lead.
The Wildcats scored two more runs in the fourth inning, with both Alexis Dotson and Reyna Carranco scoring after batters were walked with the bases loaded.
Arizona finished with nine hits and New Mexico State committed four errors.
“Arizona was pretty outstanding tonight,” New Mexico State coach Kathy Rodolph said. “They’re a tremendous offense, one of the top in the country. In order to keep them at bay you really have to pull a trick out of your hat to keep them off balance. They can hurt you with the short game or hit it long.”
Arizona took care of business in the circle, too.
Danielle O’Toole (28-4) pitched three shutout innings and allowed one hit while striking out four and walking one batter. Taylor McQuillin closed the game out with two no-hit innings, striking out six NMSU batters.
“It was nice to be able to get both pitchers in the game. Taylor looked good, Tooly looked good,” Candrea said. “One down, and we need to move on to tomorrow.”
– Zack Rosenblatt, Arizona Daily Star
No. 2 national seed Arizona softball opens postseason at home
Eight-time national champion Arizona softball is seeking a return to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2010.
The No. 5-ranked Wildcats (48-7) are seeded second nationally behind Florida. They are hosting a regional and opening at 6:30 p.m. Friday against New Mexico State (29-23).
Others playing are Hillenbrand Stadium are South Carolina (32-23) and St. Francis (Pa.) (48-9).
RELATED: NCAA softball tournament bracket
If UA advances, it would remain at home for a super regional against the winner of a Baylor regional that includes Oregon State.
Eight of nine Pac-12 teams are in the 64-team field with five hosting regionals.
For the conference champion Wildcats, third baseman Katiyana Mauga is Pac-12 co-Player of the Year, Danielle O’Toole is Pitcher of the Year and Mike Candrea is Coach of the Year. The only other teams to sweep those awards were ASU in 2008 and California in 2012.
Five UA players have double-digit home runs, led by Mauga with 22. O’Toole is 27-4 with a 1.08 ERA and 191 strikeouts. Mauga and O’Toole, both seniors, are among 10 finalists for USA Softball college Player of the Year.
Mauga has 89 career homers, six away from tying the NCAA-record 95 set by Oklahoma’s Lauren Chamberlain (2012-15).
Candrea, in his 30th season, has 1,516 career wins, second-most nationally behind Michigan’s Carol Hutchins (1,522).
St. Francis (48-9) vs. South Carolina (28-23), 4 p.m.
Arizona (48-7) vs. New Mexico State (29-23), 6:30 p.m., ESPNU.
The regional is a double-elimination format, May 19-21, in Tucson.