Arizona softball rallies late to win game one of Super Regionals
Arizona's Taylor McQuillin (18) pitching during the NCAA Tournament Regional game at Hillenbrand Stadium on May 17. Arizona won 5-1 vs. Harvard.
Arizona softball shook off a shaky start and a couple one-run deficits against No. 11 Ole Miss, eventually rallying to a 5-2 victory in game one of the Super Regional to put the program on the doorstep of its first Women’s College World Series birth since 2010.
Led by senior pitcher Taylor McQuillin’s shutdown performance over the game’s last four innings and a 4-4, two-RBI night at the plate from junior Malia Martinez, the No. 6 ranked Wildcats earned their first Super Regional win since the opening game of the 2017 series versus Baylor.
“We know where we want to go, but you have to take care of business, so I’m not going to get ahead of myself,” Head Coach Mike Candrea said following the game.
The Wildcats opened up the night on the wrong side of the ball, allowing Ole Miss’ running game to steal a couple runs early on. The Rebels base runners stole four bases in the first inning alone and were able to scratch across a run in both the first and second innings.
Arizona answered back both times, though, as Martinez doubled down the left field line in the first to plate and Jessie Harper and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza singled home Hannah Martinez.
From the fourth inning on, the Wildcats settled in and began to pick apart Ole Miss piece by piece. McQuillin in particular held her own after struggling early and didn’t allow a hit in the final four frames.
“I think tonight you saw some maturity out of Taylor," Candrea said. "Instead of worrying toward the last part of the game, she was attacking and she was getting stronger. And that’s what you need at this time of the year."
Arizona opened up the game in the fourth and fifth innings. Palomino-Cardoza hit a sacrifice-fly to give the UA its first lead of the night in the fourth, and Malia Martinez worked a nine-pitch at bat to single home Carli Campbell, putting the ‘Cats up 4-2.
In the fifth, a couple of fielder’s choices led Hannah Martinez to drop an RBI single into right field to score Rylee Pierce and give Arizona a comfortable 5-2 cushion.
McQuillin pitched back-to-back one, two, three innings to retire the Rebels in the sixth and seventh innings, putting the Wildcats one win away from their season-long goal.
Malia Martinez, who went 2-10 at the dish in the regional round, had four hits in four at-bats Friday to mark only the second time all season she’s had four hits in a game.
“Pressure is a privilege,” Martinez said, trying to put her efforts into perspective.
The junior said the phrase has been one of the team’s mantras throughout Arizona’s 46-12 season.
In describing her own contributions in the victory, Martinez’s four simple words also stated the heavy burden weighing on the softball program, perhaps without even realizing it.
Arizona won the first game of the Super Regionals in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons only to lose two straight and get eliminated.
The Wildcats have earned every bit of success they’ve enjoyed this season, but can Candrea and company conquer their demons this time around?
“The one thing I’ve really stressed with this group is learning how to handle the big moment and being able to control them. And I don’t live in the past, never will,” Candrea said. “Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be coaching. I think that’s for you guys to write about and remind me of it, but truthfully, I forgot about a long time ago and right now it’s today and what we’re doing today.”
Follow Alec White on Twitter