Rita Hillenbrand Stadium achieved a first over the weekend when the Florida State Seminoles came to Tucson. The three-game series between two longtime softball heavyweights featured the first number-one ranked team outside of the Pac-12 to play in the 26-year-old stadium.
The two teams faced disparate fates during the series, with the visiting Seminoles (25-2) winning Friday’s game, 5-3, in addition to Sunday’s finale, 4-3.
The hometown Wildcats (18-7) thwarted FSU in Saturday’s nightcap, 11-3, giving the team its first win over a top-10 ranked team this season.
Longtime Arizona coach Mike Candrea took away both highs and lows from the team’s weekend performance. He believed the high-energy atmosphere at the renovated softball complex gave his players a crash course on playing in a big game atmosphere.
Candrea said that experience will pay off down the road in a ultra-competitive Pac-12 conference featuring six teams in the latest NCAA top-25 rankings.
“The biggest thing is just the presence you have to have in big games that feeds enthusiasm throughout everyone, and it’s something we’ve got to work on,” Candrea said. “I mean, that’s why we play these games.”
Candrea knows that playing against top-notch teams during the non-conference schedule is beneficial for everyone, with the conference season on the horizon. The coach said his team can learn something from each series they play, with the FSU games showing how far the squad has to go to contend on the sport’s elite level.
“Hopefully you can take something from this to help you get better, and I think that the biggest thing I’m looking at right now,” he said. “We had some opportunities and we just gave them too many opportunities.”
Redshirt junior outfielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza shared Candrea’s sentiments, touching on how hard the team fought throughout the weekend.
Palomino-Cardoza, who has seven home runs and 31 RBIs for the team this season, thinks playing a difficult non-conference schedule will give the squad the mental edge they need to contend for a conference championship.
“They’re the number one to the nation, so we’ve got to come out strong,” she said. “I think we battled with them and that’s all we can ask for right now. They’re a good team. It’s just keeping up with them and I think we did a great job of battling back with them.”
Junior catcher Dejah Mulipola, who blasted a home run in the opening game of the series Friday night, shared a similar level of confidence about the team’s level of play at the moment.
“I think we’re right there,” Mulipola said. “You know, it was just a couple at bats, you know, a couple pitches. We weren’t getting our way defensively, but offensively we need to help her out a little bit.”
The Oregon Ducks
Arizona’s opening Pac-12 series against the Oregon Ducks (11-10) kicks off this weekend, with the first game scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Friday in Tucson.
The Ducks are led offensively by Jasmine Sievers and Shaye Bowden, who are hitting .340 and .328 this season, respectively, with sophomore Jordan Dail handling the team’s pitching responsibilities.
The Ducks enter the series off a three-game sweep at the hands of the 19th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, losing their three games by a combined score of 19-12.
Two of the three games at Hillenbrand Stadium will be shown on the Pac-12 Network, with Friday night’s opener broadcast via an online stream at arizonawildcats.com.
The Wildcats have a 10-4 record this season in Tucson, with their losses coming against South Florida (4-1), seventh-ranked Alabama (6-1) and their recent losses to FSU.
Candrea believes his team’s greatest obstacle is overcoming a sense of unease about playing top-notched talent, which is something they’ll have to conquer to succeed in the Pac-12.
“I don’t care who’s got what names on what jersey,” he said. “There’s an opponent there and you’ve got to learn to play the opponent. A lot of times, our opponent is ourselves, and so that’s the stumbling block that we have to get over.”
The longtime Arizona coach said the team’s starting pitcher, Taylor McQuillin, should be ready to take to the pitcher’s circle this weekend, after having trouble at times against the Seminoles.
McQuillin has posted a 1.73 earned run average in 14 appearances this season, with a 7-5 record in the circle for the Wildcats.
Her 103 strikeouts in 81 innings pitched lead the team, with the senior sitting seventh overall in the nation in strikeouts this season.
Candrea knows what to expect from the Ducks, who feature one of the best offensive lineups in the conference, and believes the team’s grueling non-conference slate will set them up for success in the Pac-12.
He said a three-game series against such a talented team will test his players, but that his team has the ability to learn from their past mistakes to find success on the diamond going forward.
“You’ve got to be able to make adjustments and you’ve got to outplay them, and that’s what we should be used to doing because that’s what we do throughout the year,” Candrea said.