They’re there. They are always there, lurking. The thoughts resurface inside Danielle O’Toole’s head, the negative memories, that terrible feeling over what happened on the softball field in late May.
“Every day,” she said. “Every day.”
The Arizona Wildcats softball team had taken a 1-0 series lead in a Super Regional at Auburn, one victory away from returning to the Women’s College Series for the first time since 2010.
But the Tigers came roaring back a day later, winning 4-1 and 6-1, handing O’Toole both losses. She pitched a total of 6 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and six earned runs, hitting four batters.
“Obviously, some of it is still really negative for me and I’m like, ‘Oh, if I hadn’t thrown this’ or ‘If I hadn’t thought about it this way, things might have been different.’ But they’re not. So, what are you going to do?
“Just go back and review, learn, figure out what you need to do to be better. … I think it is going to eat at me. Can you change it into a positive? Yes. Is it eating at you positively? Yes, if that makes sense.”
It makes perfect sense.
O’Toole pitched the Wildcats to the brink of last year’s World Series, and now she has even more of an edge. Coach Mike Candrea said last year’s so-close experience is fuel for the entire team, and we’ll all get a chance to see if he’s right as the 2017 season begins Thursday night at the Hillenbrand Invitational (6 p.m. vs. Fordham).
These Wildcats are deeper, have more lumber in the middle of the lineup … but it’s going to be all about the pitching. It’s almost always all about the pitching. Arizona has Taylor McQuillin, Nancy Bowling and Michelle Floyd as support in the circle, but you can make the case that Candrea’s team will only go as far as O’Toole’s left arm allows.
With excellent location and a killer change-up, she is coming off the best pitching season at Arizona since Kenzie Fowler in 2010, leading the Pac-12 in victories (26) and finishing third in ERA (2.17) and strikeouts (192) while earning first-team all-league honors.
That was O’Toole’s first season at Arizona following her transfer from San Diego State and a redshirt year with the Cats.
Can she be better?
Well, she did earn a spot on the Team USA in January, so you have to think she is in peak form.
The senior coyly hints at new wrinkles in her already impressive arsenal, but she prefers to surprise the hitters with the details of what all that looks like. That’s what elite pitchers always do — they stay one step ahead of the hitting competition.
“The big thing about pitching at this level is you almost have to recreate yourself,” Candrea said.
“The good thing about Tooly is she has great command of her pitches and has a great offspeed pitch. So that’s one of those pitches that if you don’t have, then the second or third time around (the batting order), it gets tougher.”
Arizona starts the season picked to finish second in the Pac-12 in a poll of coaches, and the Cats are No. 10 in the NFCA rankings, they’re highest in the preseason poll since 2012.
Almost everyone returns from last season’s team, and Candrea, in a very telling sign, has been talking since fall practice about this squad’s work ethic, chemistry and competitive depth.
The negative Auburn experience in 2016 could be an Arizona positive in 2017.
“I went back and watched film on it and watched film of myself,” O’Toole said of the Super Regional.
“On some of the pitches, you just have to give them kudos because it’s like, ‘You know, that’s a good pitch, and good for you, you beat me on that.’ But not next time.”
Next time is now time.