Arizona softball to play five teams this weekend, Oklahoma most important
Arizona softball plays five teams in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic this weekend, but the significance of one game far outweighs the others.
On Thursday, the No. 19 Wildcats (8-2) face No. 1 Oklahoma (10-0). OU has knocked Arizona out of the NCAA tournament the past two years and Shelby Pendley, who was expected to play as Arizona’s starting shortstop this year, transferred there in December.
“We’re playing very solid opponents, beginning with Oklahoma, probably I think right now, the best team out there,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “They’ve got good pitching and a very good offense. You have to beat teams like that. They’re not going to beat themselves.”
Last year the Sooners finished as national runner-up in the Women’s College World Series, but the addition of Pendley pushed OU from “favorite to prohibitive favorite,” wrote ESPN.com reporter Graham Hays.
Redshirt sophomore second baseman Chelsea Suitos said this is Arizona’s toughest weekend so far.
“I think it’s important to be able to play to our competitors’ levels and let them know who we are,” Suitos said, “especially Oklahoma, being that we lost to them the last two years in Super Regionals and so they’ve been the people that have kept us for the World Series … I think it’s time that we showed them that we’re better than them.”
Oklahoma swept Arizona 6-0 and 7-1 in Norman, Okla., in the Super Regionals last year and 5-2 and 6-0 in Tucson in 2011.
“It’s no bigger than what it is right now. The next game, every game is big and we’ll approach it that way,” Candrea said.
While last month the Wildcats said they couldn’t wait to play their ex-teammate, this week they were more subdued.
“It’s a little bigger, like a high-ranked team,” junior center fielder Alex Lavine said. “Of course, we’re excited to play and we want to do well. We get to see where we stand and what else we have to do.”
Suitos said the Wildcats will probably treat OU like any other foe.
“I think we’re just going to try and attack it as if it’s just another good competitor out there, despite the fact that we have a lot of history with them,” Suitos said.
The Wildcats also face Long Beach State (4-4) on Thursday, then on Friday Arizona takes on Ohio State (7-3) and Loyola Marymount (3-2). On Saturday it plays No. 10 LSU (10-1) to wrap up the tourney.
“Then we play Long Beach, Ohio State, Loyola Marymount, all teams that are formidable that you have to show up and play well against, and then LSU was a really good team in the post season last year,” Candrea said.
The Palm Springs, Calif., tournament is played at mini versions of famous ball parks. Arizona will play at Mizuno Yankee Stadium and Bownet Wrigley Field.
“It should be a really good challenge for us this weekend and I think it’ll give us an idea of where we’re going,” Candrea said.
The Wildcats are confident and riding a five-game winning streak after sweeping last weekend’s Hillenbrand Invitational.
“It’s really big. It’s really gonna test us and see where we are as a team and how well we work together,” Lavine said. “I think that if we bring a lot of energy and the excitement that we had this weekend, then we should do well.”
Arizona held on to beat Nebraska 1-0 on Friday and came from behind to beat Purdue 5-4 on Saturday.
“I think that the Purdue game and the Nebraska game really prepared us for Oklahoma,” Suitos said. “I think that our spirits are high and our confidence is high.”