Inconsistency highlights softball's Alabama road trip
Arizona softball (11-5) saw mixed results in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, this weekend, finishing with a 3-2 road trip record. The team scored a pair of victories over Marshall and knocked off No. 14 Tennessee, but lost two games to Alabama.
Arizona’s biggest bright spot from the weekend consisted of two more dominating performances from ace Danielle O’Toole against highly ranked competition.
O’Toole had two complete games, allowing no earned runs against No.4 Alabama and No.15 Tennessee.
After earning wins against Tennessee this week and No. 3 Louisiana State University last week, O’Toole already has two shutout victories against top-15 opponents and has a 0.28 ERA against top-15 opponents to start the year.
“The mentality I’ve brought into it [has helped me] and the way you think about a batter throughout an entire game against teams like that has made a difference,” O’Toole said.
She is 7-2 overall with a 1.92 ERA and 54 strikeouts through 51 innings. O’Toole’s hot start has kept the Wildcats in every game she has pitched, and she had her first career save over the weekend as well.
While O’Toole provided stellar pitching throughout the weekend, errors cost the Wildcats against Alabama.
In its first to the Crimson Tide, Arizona escaped from an early deficit to put itself in the lead heading into the seventh inning. After a seven inning leadoff double for Alabama, a throwing error put Tide runners on the corners with no one out. O’Toole walked the bases loaded to set up a force at any base, but another throwing error on the next batter ended the game as Alabama scored the tying and winning runs off the errors to walk away with the victory.
The defensive struggles could be a product of some makeovers across the diamond.
With Eva Watson out to injury, Candrea has had to alter his defensive alignment that already went through an overhaul in the offseason. Katiyana Mauga moved back to right field, a position she has played through the majority of her career, and Lauren Young took over at third.
“Once we get everyone doing what they need to do and feeling comfortable with who they are at this level, then I think this team has a chance of being good,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said.
The team swung the bats well enough at the plate this weekend to win three of its games, but scored only one run in two of its games. One of those games turned out to be a victory for the Wildcats against Tennessee, when they won 1-0 on Mandie Perez’s leadoff home run to start the game. The other game was a run rule loss to Alabama in the second matchup between the teams.
Consistency will continue to be the key for Arizona going forward. The lineup tends to either get the Wildcats on the board early in the game, or stay quiet until a late inning eruption brings them back in to the game.
Mo Mercado and Nancy Bowling are carrying the top and bottom of the lineups respectively, and have been the keys to the offense’s success so far.
The pitching rotation, meanwhile, has a clear, dominating ace in O’Toole, and she will be relied on throughout the year as the No. 1 starter. Freshman Taylor McQuillin has struggled as of late, but her last few outings were her first against major competition.
Receiving consistency from McQuillin would give the Wildcats a one-two punch that could rival anyone in the Pac-12 Conference.
“Hopefully this weekend will be her breakout weekend,” Candrea said. “That’s the way I look at it. I know what the young lady can do.”
The team resumes action Thursday night against BYU at 6 p.m. MST in the first game of the Wildcat Invitational at Hillenbrand Stadium.
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