Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea likes how his team is playing right now. As he should, given it has won 12 of its last 13 games, including Friday night’s 1-0 win over St. Francis in the first round of the NCAA’s Tucson Regional.
He’s also more than aware he’s always one pitch away from defeat. It’s finding ways to win and Friday night it came on one of only two hits – a home run, no less – to get to the second round to face North Dakota State at 2 p.m. at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“I like this team,” Candrea said. “We’ve come a long way. We’ve gone through some ups and downs. We’ve grown a lot mentally more than anything. I think this team is very battle tested. I just want them to go out and play the game with a sense of urgency. That’s what I wanted at the end of the year. There were times we had it and times we didn’t.”
Now, there is no room for error. Win and move on; lose and the season ends.
“They know what’s at stake and on any given night you’re going to get everyone’s best shots,” Candrea said. “(So) you’ve better be prepared. We will take it one game at a time. Sounds kind of silly but that’s how we will take it. You can’t look beyond tomorrow. We didn’t look beyond St. Francis, which I was very proud of them for that.”
As Candrea put it to begin his press conference, “A win is a win.”
Whether it was a 1-0 or a 9-1 win Arizona advances and that’s all that matters. Psychologically, it didn’t matter. Teams can’t worry about how decisive victories can be at any given time. Candrea pointed out there were games all over the country on Friday where No. 1 seeds (which Arizona is) struggled with No. 4 seeds. It’s the way of the world these days.
“A lot of people look at the post season the way it was,” Candrea said, remembering the days of the dominant teams, well, dominating. “But if you look at the games (Friday) the games were fairly close. They weren’t blowouts. That tells you were the sport has come.”
His point was: on any given day any team could win.
“At this stage of the game in post season you’ll take them anyway you can,” he said.
Arizona’s win came via the swing of Jessie Harper, the team leader in home runs (now at 18) when she hit a line-drive homer over the left-field fence in the fourth inning.
“It was big, but I really feel we have a lot of people in the middle of our lineup that can hurt you,” Candrea said. “They can hurt you with one swing. Unfortunately, tonight we weren’t squaring the ball up (for hits) … this game humbles you sometimes, especially offensively.”
Taylor McQuillin (26-10) picked up the win, giving up just four hits and striking out eight. It was her 14th shutout.