After an amazing 5-0 run in regional play, the No. 11 Arizona softball team is in Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series.
At the beginning of the season, a lot of hype was put around the “championship or bust” mentality, and early on, it did not seem as if Arizona would be able to live up to that expectation. After rough outings on the road and constant losing to top-25 teams, many believed that this team would not make a deep run after all.
Instead, the Wildcats swept No. 5 Arkansas on the road in the Razorbacks home stadium, putting to rest any rumors that this team could not win on the road or against ranked opponents. One surprise this postseason has been the play of many of the underclassmen. Designated player Sharlize Palacios has been an offensive powerhouse, left fielder Janelle Meono has made key defensive plays, and first baseman Carlie Scupin has come up clutch with some big hits. Before she took the field for a college program, Scupin said she knew that Arizona could be a place to fulfill her dream of playing for a championship.
“One of my biggest priorities was [finding a school] that would give me a chance to play on a team that goes to the World Series,” Scupin said. “Arizona is definitely one of those schools.”
With many on the team playing in their first World Series, Scupin and the rest of the underclassmen are leaning on the seniors for guidance and wisdom.
“It means a lot to play with all seven of our seniors,” Scupin said. “All of them have played in the World Series before. They have been through it and are telling us what to expect. They are preparing us, so it means a lot.”
One of those seniors is shortstop Jessie Harper, who is closing out her career as one of the best home run hitters of all time. Arizona will face Alabama in the first game and for the seniors, this game will be personal. At the World Series in 2019, Alabama beat Arizona 2-0 and ended their bid at a title. Harper said she remembers it as if it were yesterday.
“You never forget a loss that a team gives you,” Harper said. “I definitely remember it. It is etched in [my mind], and I will not forget it.”
Harper said she likes what she is seeing from her team right now and feels they do not need to make many adjustments.
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“We are just going to come out and play our game,” Harper said. “We are doing so good right now in trusting each other and having each other’s backs. I am so excited, and I believe our team has a legitimate shot.”
To have a shot, Arizona will have to go through one of the best pitchers in the country, Montana Fouts. With an ERA of 1.49 and a record of 25-3, Fouts is practically invincible. In the three games that Fouts has pitched during the Crimson Tide’s regional tournaments, she is 3-0 and threw a shutout in two straight games against Clemson. In those three games, Fouts threw 21 innings, 39 strikeouts and only allowed three runs. Also, Fouts has not lost a game since Friday, April 16. Head coach Mike Candrea said he knows his team is going to have their hands full with Fouts.
“The key is going to be shrinking the zone, and make sure we are not chasing rising balls out of the zone,” Candrea said. “That is easier said than done, but we have seen pitchers that are very similar. If we can not chase balls out of the zone, then we have a chance.”
Arizona will play Alabama in the first round of the Women's College World Series at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium on Thursday, June 3 at 4 p.m. MST.
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