Tucson Regional: Arizona advances to Super Regional with 4-3 win over Mississippi State
In front of a crowd that is used to softball excellence, the start of the Regional Final at Hillenbrand Stadium on Sunday afternoon was something that was foreign to many of the long-time onlookers.
Mississippi State came out of the gates and put two Alyssa Denham pitches into the left field bleachers, taking an early 2-0 lead that had the Wildcat faithful stunned and confused.
The shock quickly turned into jubilation as senior Ashleigh Hughes doubled with the bases loaded to put the ‘Cats ahead 3-2 in the next half inning, quickly calming and worries that had come to the surface during the first inning.
The Wildcat lead was also short lived as Mississippi State had another surprise up its sleeve as senior Carmen Carter blasted another shot into the metal left field bleachers to tie up the game once again at 3.
The third home run prompted Hall of Fame coach Mike Candrea to make a pitching change after just one and one third innings. He opted to go with his ace Taylor McQuillin in order to hopefully calm the storm and instill some sort of stability into an Arizona team that looked to be on its heels.
Candrea’s change made all of the difference, as McQuillin entered the game and shut down the visiting Bulldogs. She came in and didn’t allow a single hit in her five-plus innings of relief.
Arizona senior Aleah Creighton was the hero on the offensive side of the ball as she singled in Jessie Harper in the fifth inning to put the Wildcats ahead for good after lining a shot into the shallow outfield on a 3-0 count.
The single run of insurance was all the Wildcats needed as they secured their 29th Regional Championship since 1988. Most of those coming at Hillenbrand Stadium, where the Wildcats played its last game at until its new facelift this offseason.
Candrea didn’t shy away from expressing his emotions and connections he's made with the storied venue.
“I gotta be honest with you, there was a few tears… I guess one of the good things about getting old is that you get to live through history, and I have been able to do that with this program," Candrea said.
Speaking of Southern California kids, the Wildcats will be waiting on the outcome of the UCLA Regional, as the winner of that four-team tournament will be the Wildcats opponent next weekend.
The location of the Super Regional is still TBD, with Arizona still in the running for hosting a Super Regional due to UCLA dropping their opening match to Cal State Fullerton.
Follow David Skinner on Twitter @davidwskinner_