The No.4 Arizona Wildcats won their 19th straight game after a two-game sweep against the Grand Canyon University Lopes on Wednesday afternoon. The victories moved them to 34-1 on the season and this week marked the first week the Wildcats received first-place votes in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll (2).
The mid-week doubleheader isn’t the norm for Arizona, especially during conference play. The Lopes came in with a 25-10 record and have faced Pac-12 opponents Stanford and Washington. The Pac-12 had a ban on scheduling with the university, which is for-profit, but as soon as it was lifted Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said he planned the doubleheader with them “immediately.”
"They do a good job, they're a good team," Candrea said. "It's crazy that they're in state and we don't play each other. "We're definitely going to start something with them."
Candrea mentioned a relationship with GCU head coach Ann Pierson as a big reason for the two-game set occurring and make no mistake, this was no favor from Candrea to Pierson. The Lopes almost caught the Wildcats on an emotional drop-off.
"They're a good little ball club and I was concerned about a hangover to be honest with you after that weekend where we were hitting on all cylinders," Candrea said. "The last thing I want to do is come out here and be a little flat."
The Lopes came to Tucson after dropping a doubleheader to No. 8 Washington last Wednesday and came out swinging on Wednesday night, but the results for them in Tucson were no different than against the Huskies.
Game 1 | Arizona 6, GCU 2
Senior ace Danielle O’Toole was in the circle for the Wildcats and after tossing her first career no-hitter last Friday against Washington, the Lopes led off game one with a single right up the middle. It wasn’t O’Toole’s best day, she gave up two earned runs, but the Wildcats lineup was able to get to the Lopes’ Taylor Nowlin for six runs.
O’Toole entered the day fifth in the country in ERA at 0.69, but after her performance it rose to 0.84, still good for a tie for eighth. Even if there was an emotional hangover for the Wildcats, this year’s team can get away with it.
"I thought we were flat to start the game, we were flat in batting practice, so I was concerned," Candrea said. "But what allows me not to be too concerned is our pitching staff."
O’Toole is now 17-1 on the season with her lone loss coming in a 1-0 loss to No. 1 Florida State.
Game 2 | Arizona 12, GCU 0 (5 innings)
Think O’Toole has a low ERA, enter Taylor McQuillin. The sophomore entered with an ERA of 0.84, eighth in the nation and right where O’Toole ended up after game one. McQuillin threw four scoreless innings to lower her ERA to 0.74 and improve her record to 11-0.
She got all the run support she needed in the second inning. Similar to game two in last week’s series with the Huskies, Arizona took advantage of the Lope’s number two pitcher Brianna Aguilar-Beaucage.
They poured on eight runs in the inning and every starter except Mo Mercado scored a run in the contest. The big story on offense didn’t come in the second inning, it came in the third when Katiyana Mauga hit her eleventh home run.
The senior has struggled as of late and entered the game batting .297, well below her career average. Mauga became emotional when asked about her performance as of late.
“Not too good, obviously," Mauga said. "Coach tells me it’s between the ears so I think that last at-bat was much needed."
The grind of hearing about the home run chase has gotten to the senior slugger.
"I kept her in there just thinking that she's one swing away from getting going again," Candrea said. "It becomes mental, it becomes a grind. I don't think anyone knows what it's like to be chasing something and being reminded of it on a day-to-day basis. Roger Maris' hair fell out, it's a lot for a young person to handle."
Mauga now has 78 career home runs, nine away from Stacie Chambers UA record, but the national total of 95 set by Lauren Chamberlain is now out of reach.
Arizona heads to the bay this weekend to resume conference play against the California Golden Bears in a three-game series beginning on Friday at 4 p.m. MST. All three games will be aired on Pac-12 Networks.
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