No matter what sport it is, I always enjoy it when my team is the best team. When I became a journalist for the University of Arizona in January 2021, the school had so many great teams to choose from. My favorite will always be the Arizona beach volleyball team, but my next favorite team was the Arizona softball team.
Their sheer power and dominance could not be matched. Every hitter in the lineup was deadly, their pitching was unstoppable and their coaching staff was as elite as it could get. I honestly thought this team could go undefeated the whole season. I was hyped beyond belief, and nobody was a bigger fan of this team than I was. Sadly, I do not feel this way anymore. As my hype wore off and I have become a more seasoned journalist, I realized that I was blinded by a reality that I did not want to accept, but now I must.
The No. 8 Arizona softball team is in big trouble once the NCAA tournament starts. How could my mind have been so drastically changed? Simple, I started thinking analytically rather than emotionally. I will go full circle and start from the first game of the season to the last game of the season and detail why I believe this team is not as good as rankings or early victories say they are. Here we go.
Texas Classic cancellation
While this may not seem like a big deal now, one must wonder what would have happened if the classic went forward. The Wildcats were set to open the season against No. 6 Texas and later face No. 8 Alabama. The current standings have Alabama ranked No. 3 with a record of 44-7. Texas currently sits at No. 10 with a record of 39-11.
This is important because Arizona has not fared well against ranked opponents at all, and with a record of 36-13, it shows that the Wildcats are not better than Alabama or Texas. It would have worked well to find out sooner rather than later that Arizona would need to adjust when facing top-25 teams, but it did not happen.
First two home series were not a true test
While the first two invitationals at Hillenbrand Stadium were fun to watch, Arizona’s opponents were anything but difficult competition. In the first 10 games of the season, eight of them Arizona won by mercy rule with three of them shutouts. After this series, I was convinced that Arizona was the best team in the country. My colleagues told me I should wait a few more games before I conclude that, and I should have listened to them. Here is what I found after looking deeper into the Wildcats’ first two home series.
Of the six schools they faced, four of them sit below .500 today. The only two who are not are Seattle University and BYU. Both teams are currently not ranked and Seattle is not in a power conference, so the toughest teams they face are Portland State and Montana. In essence, it would have taken a miracle of some sort for any of these teams to beat Arizona.
First road trip of the season humbled me
Arizona’s first real test of the season was their first road trip to Florida, where they would face many teams across the state. After winning their first two games (against a non-ranked opponent), Arizona faced No. 22 UCF on March 8. The thought of losing did not even cross my mind because, at the time, Arizona was the second-best team in the country.
In the end, Arizona lost the game 0-2, their first loss of the season. The team batted .125 with only three hits. To be fair, UCF only had three hits also, but they were able to convert those hits into runs. It was tough to see them lose their first game of the season, but I knew they would rebound, or at least I thought.
After pounding unranked Florida A&M into the ground 8-0 the next day, Arizona reset for a three-game series with No. 15 Florida State on March 11-13. It did not go well for Arizona as they lost two of the three games. Six days later, the Wildcats went to face No. 6 Washington for a four-game series at Husky Softball Stadium on March 19-21. The Huskies dominated Arizona in the first two games. Luckily the next two were rained out, otherwise Arizona may have been swept in four games instead of two.
It was after this road trip that a harsh reality set in for me. Arizona cannot beat top-25 teams, and from then on, I was very skeptical.
Hellfire in Tempe
Let’s fast forward one month to Arizona’s four-game series at No. 13 ASU on April 16-18. The month I skipped was where Arizona picked up 12 more wins, but again, they were all against non-ranked opponents. This was their first series against a ranked opponent in a while and, just like the past ones, it did not go well at all.
ASU won the first two games in convincing fashion, meaning Arizona could at best even the series out. Arizona channeled its anger and won the third game of the series 15-1 in five innings. The final game of the series went into extras after catcher Dejah Mulipola tied things up in the top of the seventh.
The celebrations did not last long as ASU walked it off in the eighth inning and took the series 3-1. From this point on, I was not convinced that Arizona could compete for a championship unless they could win a series against a top-25 opponent.
Road woes continue in Oregon
In their final road trip of the season, the Wildcats faced No. 12 Oregon May 7-9 in a last-ditch effort to prove they could be road warriors. Unfortunately, Arizona only scored one run in the first two games and lost both, guaranteeing that Oregon would at worst split the series. Arizona won the next two games, but the damage was already done.
Arizona would finish 11-10 on the road. Not exactly the record road warriors would finish with.
Perfect home record shattered by UCLA
In their final series of the season, Arizona would come home to face No. 2 UCLA. Up until this point, Arizona was a perfect 24-0 at home. I am sure you can see the pattern as to why that is so.
Yeah, you guessed it. Arizona played 24 games against non-ranked opponents at home. It was time to see if the Wildcats’ perfect home record was legit or an illusion. To no surprise of my own, UCLA hammered Arizona and won three out of four games. Had Arizona faced more ranked opponents at home, they would not have been undefeated there this long. UCLA proved that.
Here are some other key stats that should raise alarms now that Arizona closed out their regular season.
- Arizona never won a series against a top-25 team this season.
- Out of eight away game series, Arizona only won three.
- Arizona finished 5-13 against top-25 teams.
- Arizona batted only .252 on the road and .217 against top-25 teams.
- Arizona was 10-9 in games that came down to three runs or less.
- Arizona lost every series (five) in which they lost game one.
If these issues are not addressed immediately, I fear it will be a short playoff run for the Wildcats.
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Sean (he/him) is a business administration major from California. He enjoys playing video games and watching Disney+ in his free time.