Arizona softball awaits rival UCLA in Tucson series
After a weekend sweep of the Stanford Cardinal, the Wildcats have their sights set on Pac-12 Conference rival UCLA.
The two are widely considered to be the two most historic softball programs in the nation. The rivalry is also regarded as one of the fiercest matchups in the sport.
UCLA holds the all-time advantage of 74-55 over Arizona. The Bruins took 11 of the last 13 games. The Wildcats will head to their biggest six-game stretch of the season on the heels of their eight-game winning streak.
After their three game home set against the Bruins, the Wildcats will travel to Eugene and take on Oregon.
The No. 5 Ducks are the highest-ranked team in the Pac-12 and lead the conference by one and a half games. Taking a series from the Bruins before making their way to Eugene, Oregon, is vital for the Wildcats. It starts this weekend against the Bruins and Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said he believes his team is ready for the challenge.
“It should be a great [series] for us that we kind of feel like, back in the day U of A and UCLA were softball, so it’s a good rivalry,” Candrea said. “I respect what they’ve done, I hope that they respect what we’ve done. It’s a good match up.”
A series victory over UCLA would mean a move in to the top 16 in the national polls for Arizona, as well as a move into second place in the conference heading to Oregon.
The matchup between the UCLA pitching staff and the Arizona lineup is the key match up in the series this weekend.
UCLA is next to last in the Pac-12 in ERA, strikeouts and opposing batting average. Arizona is seventh in the conference with a team average of .307. If the Arizona bats can take advantage of the Bruins’ sub-par rotation, their dominant pitching should be able to keep runs off the board.
The Bruins lead the conference in walks and on-base percentage. They have a productive offense that generates runs from drawing walks, stealing bases and playing the speed game.
Danielle O’Toole and Taylor McQuillin should give the Bruins’ lineups problems and will certainly limit their walks.
After another solid week from the lineup, it seems like they may have found their stride. If the Wildcats’ bats can take advantage of the weak UCLA pitching staff, they can get hot at the right time. A series win and confidence boost in the UCLA series would bode well when the team hits the road next weekend.
After Oregon the team wraps up the season with two more series at home against Oregon State and California. Both OSU and California are unranked and competitive teams that could easily move in to the rankings if the Wildcats slipped up.
Katiyana Mauga and Mo Mercado continue to lead the way for the team and each has more home runs than strikeouts. Mauga has 15 home runs to 14 strikeouts, while Mercado has seven bombs compared to four strikeouts.
Freshman Joelle Krist was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week and has established herself as the everyday first baseman. Candrea is pleased with where his freshman is at.
“I think [Krist] has really come in to her own in conference, she’s playing good defense, and she’s running in to some pitches,” Candrea said. “Her hits have been productive for us, they’ve driven runs at a crucial time, so I’m very, very pleased with where she is at.”
The UCLA series begins on Saturday at 2 p.m. Games one and two will be televised on ESPN2.
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