The University of Arizona’s softball team is on a roll, winning nine games in a row, all against Pac-12 foes.
The Wildcats’ (27-7, 9-0) latest victim was the Arizona State Sun Devils, who were swept by a combined score of 18-0 in a three-game series in Tucson over the weekend.
The three-game performance was enough to give the Wildcats a third consecutive sweep to open conference play.
The Sun Devils join the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers as teams that Mike Candrea’s Wildcats have swept in Pac-12 play.
Candrea’s latest sweep packs extra significance, given the in-state rivalry shared between the two programs. There’s also the extra motivation of Candrea being an ASU alumnus, which adds a bit of fuel to an already-heated rivalry.
“It’s always marked on the calendar, with my history with Arizona State,” Candrea said. “Right now, we just want to keep playing well and it doesn’t really matter who the opponent is. But yeah, anytime they come down here it’s nice.”
Arizona’s three-game sweep of ASU came in large part from the long ball, with Friday and Saturday’s matching 8-0 victories featuring multiple home runs from Wildcat mainstays.
In Friday’s opener, Malia Martinez, along with Dejah Mulipola and Tamara Statman, hit homers, allowing the Wildcats to finish off a run-rule victory.
The next night, it was Hannah Martinez and Alyssa Palomino who went deep, with Martinez hitting a three-run home run, while Palomino drove in two with her long ball.
Sunday’s finale was a pitcher’s duel, with the Wildcats prevailing, 2-0, thanks to an RBI single and solo home run by infielder Rylee Pierce.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the weekend for Candrea was the performance of pitchers Taylor McQuillin and Alyssa Denham, who threw 17 innings of shutout ball against one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses.
Candrea said that McQuillin, who struck out 15 Sun Devils in 12 innings of work, is putting together the best stretch of her four-year career in Tucson.
“A big part of this game is going through the tough times and learning how to pitch at this level,” Candrea said. “And I think right now she’s got more than one pitch working. She’s working both sides of the plate, which is something that she needed to do. She looks good.”
McQuillin, who’s posted an 11-5 record and a 1.45 earned run average in the pitcher’s circle this season, said stymying the Sun Devils was one of her finest accomplishments.
“I think it’s really cool,” she said. “Obviously, this is one of the biggest series that we have all year long. It’s one of the biggest rivalries in college softball. So, it’s pretty cool to go out and put on a show like our team did as a whole offense.”
McQuillin acknowledged the extra pressure that rests on the shoulders of a starting pitcher squaring off against ASU. The Mission Viejo, California native knows how much is on the line when the two Arizona powerhouse programs meet, with bragging rights and pride at stake.
“The past three years that I’ve been here, we’ve always had good series against ASU just because of the competition on the field and the need to win,” McQuillin said. “It’s not just for us, but it’s for our fans. It’s for the entire university. It’s for the whole Tucson community.”
McQuillin said she took extra motivation from this weekend’s dominating effort, knowing it’s likely her final time playing ASU in her college career.
“For me, these are always the best games to play in, just coming out knowing that the competition is going to be hot, and everybody’s going to have a high adrenaline rush, big energy, lots of fight,” she said. “And the fans, this is probably the greatest weekend for them, too, so knowing that they’re going to support you, especially since we’re at home for that series.”