McQuillin’s redemption: A near-perfect relief outing shows how far Arizona’s ace has come

Sofia Moraga | The Daily Wildcat Taylor McQuillin (18) pitches during the first inning of the Arizona-St. Francis game of the NCAA championship Tournament on Friday May 18 at the Rita Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.

Mike Candrea left Hillenbrand Stadium on Saturday evening knowing without a doubt who his starter would be for the first game of the Tucson Regional Final on Sunday. 

The veteran softball head coach was going to hand the reins to Alyssa Denham after Taylor McQuillin had pitched 14 scoreless innings to secure the first two victories of the weekend. Prior to Sunday afternoon’s game against Mississippi State, Denham had surrendered just two runs in her previous 18 innings of work. 

But Denham watched two of the first three Bulldog batters she faced send rise balls into the left field bleachers to put the ‘Cats in an early hole. After Denham gave up a third home run in the second inning and walked the next batter, Candrea needed to stop the bleeding. Although the game was tied at three, Candrea wasn’t taking any chances. 

Enter Taylor McQuillin. 

The left-handed ace came in and became the stopper Arizona needed at a crucial time when it felt as if the Bulldogs could force a winner-take-all showdown. McQuillin pitched a near-perfect 5.2 scoreless innings of work and the Wildcats added another run an offense to advance to the Super Regionals. 

McQuillin faced 17 batters, struck out five of them, and didn’t surrender a hit.

“The storyline is obviously Taylor McQuillin,” Candrea said. “I think she has grown a lot mentally and sometimes you have to go through the trials and tribulations in this game and it makes you stronger.”

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Evidence of McQuillin’s growth can be traced all the way back to the last time she pitched in relief during an NCAA Tournament game, which was against Baylor in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the 2017 Super Regionals in Tucson. 

McQuillin relieved last year’s ace Danielle O’Toole with a two-run cushion and three batters in gave up a three-run home run that gave Baylor the lead. Arizona lost by a final of 6-5. 

A year later as this year’s ace, McQuillin flipped the script and powered through the regional weekend throwing 19.2 scoreless innings that was highlighted by Sunday’s signature’s relief appearance. 

Arizona's Taylor Mcquillin (18) pitches during the Arizona-St. Francis game of the NCAA championship Tournament on Friday May 18 at the Rita Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.

For Mississippi State head coach Vann Stuedeman, even she could tell just how far McQuillin had come.

“Sometimes when a pitcher knows she’s the one that has to get it done and there’s no help, because there’s no Danielle O’Toole,” Stuedeman said. "This year she was just a little bit stronger that way because she knew she was the one with the ball. She knew she had to get it done.”

McQuillin got it done, indeed, and the Wildcats are headed to the Super Regionals for the fifth year in a row. Her pitching will once again be the key to the series against whoever the Wildcats face between UCLA and Cal State Fullerton. 

But Candrea has confidence that McQuillin will be ready for the test.

“I think finally she is starting to understand what she’s got to do to stay in control of herself in tough situations and today she was the pitcher I thought she would be when we recruited her.”

Follow Alec White on Twitter @AlecWhite_UA

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