Arizona is hungry, having not qualified for the Women’s College World Series since 2010.
The Wildcats (45-12) get another shot next week, hosting the Super Regional against Ole Miss (41-18) at Hillenbrand Stadium (dates and times to be announced). Since its last trip to Oklahoma City nine years ago, Mike Candrea‘s program is 0-7 in Super Regionals, including losses at Hillenbrand against Oklahoma in 2011 and Baylor in 2017.
A significant reason for the shortcomings was a lack of quality pitching depth.
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That will not be the case this year with Candrea’s two-headed monster with ace Taylor McQuillin (22-7, 1.54 ERA) and No. 2 pitcher Alyssa Denham (10-5, 1.93). Candrea can also call on Sahuaro High School graduate Gina Snyder, who was the winning pitcher in last week’s final game at No. 3 UCLA. Snyder is 5-0 with a 1.95 ERA.
“I feel pretty good right now,” Candrea said. “We have some arms. And it’s not just Denham and McQuillin but Gina Snyder’s come in and thrown some really good innings for us. She’s ready.
“So, yeah, I feel like we have a little bit of depth and at that stage of the game, this time of year, that’s nice to have.”
Denham had one of her strongest performances of the season in Arizona’s 12-3 win over Auburn Sunday in the Tucson Regional championship at Hillenbrand. She had 10 strikeouts with only one walk and four hits allowed in her complete-game performance.
Obviously @jesss_harperr did super human things today but how about some 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 for the performance from @DenhamAlyssa today. Huge team win led by 3 more Harper Homers and some straight 🔥 in the circle!
Auburn scored three runs but they were unearned.
“I was just mixing pitches, focusing on hitting my spots and change of speed,” Denham, a junior right-hander, said.
It helps that Arizona’s lineup rallied for six runs in the top of the fourth to break the game open, answering Auburn’s three-run rally in the bottom of the third that tied the game at 3.
“It’s like the best feeling ever as a pitcher is when you make a couple of mistakes and your teammates come back the next inning and double the amount of runs, six runs,” Denham said. “It shows like how much they fight for all of us. It just gave me so much more confidence from there on out.”
Road Sweet Home?
Auburn was the home team although the game was at Hillenbrand because of an NCAA rule that does not allow a team to be considered a home team too many times at what is supposed to be a neutral postseason event.
Arizona was a home team against Harvard and Auburn previously and the Tigers were the road team against Colorado State and the Wildcats. To balance things out, Arizona was the road team Sunday to the extent of using the visitor’s dugout.
If another game was necessary had Auburn won the first game, the teams would have switched dugouts and the Wildcats would have become the home team.
Carranco Designated Player for Now
Candrea reiterated that second baseman Reyna Carranco will remain Arizona’s designated player until she feels comfortable enough using a glove with her broken left hand that happened when she was hit by a pitch against Washington two weeks ago.
“It’s day-by-day right now,” Candrea said. “The biggest problem with Reyna right now is she can’t close her glove. It’s not the ground ball right at her, but it’s everything else that you have to reach for and catch.
“We will keep trying it out a little bit in practice. I didn’t want to do too much with her.”
Carranco, the Pac-12’s leading batter with a .427 average, was hitless in two official at-bats Sunday (with two walks and a run) after going 2 for 3 Saturday in her return.
Her replacement at second base, Hanah Bowen, is another member of Candrea’s deep pitching staff. Bowen has 10 appearances in the circle with two complete games and two saves in the regular season. She is 3-0 with a 0.48 ERA in 29 innings.
Arizona’s No. 1 and 2 batters in the lineup — center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza and shortstop Jessie Harper — were a combined 7 for 10 with four home runs and nine RBIs.
They were able to produce that many runs because of the production of the Wildcats’ Nos. 5 through 9 batters. Rylee Pierce, Carranco, Bowen, Peanut Martinez and Carli Campbell were a combined 6 for 18 with two walks and seven runs.
“I think this team is starting to realize the best team is going to win this thing,” Candrea said. “It takes all of us, not just the players on the field, but also the bench.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.