It was a historic afternoon at Hillenbrand Stadium on Sunday. Arizona head coach Mike Candrea won his 1,500th game in front of a packed house packaged with a 5-2 Arizona victory. The Wildcats swept the No. 6 Huskies this weekend and presented Candrea, as well the program, the milestone in grand fashion.
“I think the one thing I’m proud of is I think Arizona softball has been one to set a standard, a very high standard, and all we’re trying to do is keep continuing to reach that every single day,” Candrea said.
Interim AD @ebarnes7 addresses @CoachCandreaUA during a postgame celebration of win number 1,500 pic.twitter.com/K3NFGbhB43— Daily Wildcat Sports (@WildcatSports) March 26, 2017
During the post-game celebration, interim athletic director Erika Barnes was on hand to address Candrea in front of the crowd.
Barnes played for Candrea and was a member of the 2001 national championship team. Roles are reversed in a way as Candrea now works for Barnes, and her position is in part owed to the time she spent as an athlete playing for Candrea.
“I had such a positive experience playing for a coach like him that I want to give back that positive attitude, that daily effort, the grind, the blood, sweat and tears,” Barnes said. “I think he sees [winning 1,500 games] as a very long process. What he’s done for sport around the world, around the nation, has been really neat to see.”
Candrea is the winningest coach in Division I history. He trails University of Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins by just five wins for the all-time lead. However, not all of Hutchins’ wins came at the Division I level, while all 1,500 of Candrea’s victories have been earned as head coach at Arizona.
Win number 1,500 came in style as the Wildcats wrapped up a three-game sweep over the Huskies.
Danielle O’Toole moved to 16-1 on the season and her ERA is a cool 0.65. She gave up just three hits but surrendered a two-run home run in the seventh when the game’s result was mostly decided.
They were the Huskies’ only runs over the weekend.
Arizona made a statement during their three-game sweep, outscoring the Huskies 20-2.
Washington came into the series batting .361, good for third in the nation, but the duo of O’Toole and Taylor McQuillin held them scoreless for the first 18.2 innings of the weekend.
“It feels ... magical is cheesy, but that’s kind of the word I’m using,” O’Toole said. “It’s a good atmosphere to [be a part of and] everybody is on the same page. It’s fun to be playing, it’s fun [when it’s] 0-0 and [you] know that it’s going to happen at some point, [we] just have to figure out when.”
It was in fact 0-0 through three innings on Sunday and it looked like a typical pitcher’s duel between O’Toole and Husky starter Taran Alvelo.
Alvelo retired 10 of the first 13 batters she faced, but batter number 14 happened to be red-hot Mo Mercado.
With Eva Watson pinch running for Katiyana Mauaga on second base, a base hit from Mercado would have given the Wildcats the lead. But as O’Toole mentioned, this year’s team knows that “it” is bound to happen at some point in the game.
Mercado blasted a two-run homer to the left field bleachers, and the Wildcats led the rest of the way. After struggling to string hits together last year, this year’s Wildcats have been consistent at the plate, as evidenced by their eight-run first inning on Saturday.
“I think the difference is we have a stronger lineup 1-9,” Mercado said. “Last year one of our struggles was we kind of were a streaky team with our offense, whereas this year we have newcomers and veterans that are having better at-bats and producing better overall.”
A no-hitter from O’Toole on Friday, a run rule victory over a top-10 team on Saturday and win number 1,500 for Candrea on Sunday—think it’s fun being on this team right now?
“To be on the team for his 1,500th win is just so exciting because so many great athletes have been here before us so to be a part of it; it’s just great,” Mercado said.
Arizona will play a doubleheader against Grand Canyon University on Wednesday, March 29, at 3 and 5 p.m. MST.
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