Arizona Softball

Arizona Wildcats Notes: Mike Candrea’s Team Confident Against Washington in WCWS Opener Despite Recent History vs. Huskies

The last time Arizona has defeated Washington happened way back on March 26, 2017 — some 793 days ago — when the Wildcats completed a sweep of the Huskies at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Current Arizona players Reyna Carranco, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Dejah Mulipola, Jessie Harper and T Statman were in the lineup that day. They are 0-6 against the Huskies since, including getting swept three weeks ago at Hillenbrand Stadium.

After beating Ole Miss in the Super Regional on Saturday, they learned of their first opponent in the Women’s College World Series — none other than Washington. The Pac-12 rivals play Thursday at 9 a.m. on ESPN at Oklahoma City.

Arizona first baseman Rylee Pierce tries to get the Washington runner out at second base (Arizona Athletics photo)

So the reaction was one of angst, right? Oh no, we have to play them again?

Some fans may have felt that way, but that’s not a typical reaction of a team that has won seven of its last eight games against No. 2 UCLA on the road and convincingly against competition in the Tucson Regional and No. 11 Ole Miss in the Tucson Super Regional.

“I’m really excited to play (Washington). I’m so happy they are our first game so I think it’s going to be really good to start off with them because we just experienced a lot against them,” Carranco said. “I think it’s a good revenge series for us.”

When asked what went through her head when she learned Washington is the first opponent in the Women’s College World Series, third baseman Malia Martinez said, “Definitely just excitement. Those (losses) are in the past. We’re not thinking about that any more. Just looking forward, and knowing it’s a new game. We know how to play against them and we know what to expect.”

Pitching makes Washington formidable

Washington (50-7) will certainly be an extreme challenge for Arizona (47-12) because the Huskies are playing as well as any team right now thanks to their pitching.

Washington pitcher Taran Alvelo (Washington photo)

The Huskies, who reached the WCWS title series last year before losing to Florida State, have won 12 straight games (including the sweep of Arizona) and are in a 28-1 stretch. They have two ace pitchers, senior Taran Alvelo and sophomore Gabbie Plain who have four shutouts in Washington’s five postseason games.

A very confident Heather Tarr, in her 15th season as head coach of her alma mater, told the Seattle Times: “Our mission is to win the last game in Oklahoma City.”

Alvelo Highly Successful Against Arizona

Chances are Tarr will start Alvelo against Arizona on Thursday for good reason — she has the decided upper-hand against the Wildcats in the last two seasons with a 5-0 record (including a save) with a 0.48 ERA in 27 1/3 innings. She has 44 strikeouts with only five walks against the Wildcats in that six-game span.

The performances by Alvelo — who throws in the low 70 mph range — against Arizona in the last two years:

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When asked about facing Alvelo’s speed, Mike Candrea said, “You have to shorten up. You have to get your front foot down early. It’s all timing and it’s not trying to do too much with her pitches.”

Candrea added that after facing Alvelo it helped his lineup when going against UCLA’s Rachel Garcia the following week. The hard-throwing Garcia struck out 17 batters in two different games, but allowed nine hits and six earned runs in those outings, including a 5-3 loss to Arizona in the series opener at UCLA on May 9.

“I’m hoping now that we’ve gone through the gamut, we can make that adjustment with timing a lot quicker,” Candrea added. “She’s a good pitcher and you have to have the mentality that you’re going to stay on top, so it’s more of a game that’s going to be played on the ground and it’s more of a game that you have to be quick from Point A to Point B.

“She’s going to supply power. If you’re trying to supply power against power, that’s when the swing gets long and then you start seeing the strikeouts occurring.”

Carranco not fretting facing Alvelo, Washington again

Twice in the last two years, Carranco has suffered serious injuries when facing Alvelo.

She was hit by a pitch in the face two years ago in Seattle and suffered a concussion, facial fracture just below her right eye and a broken nose that required surgery. She was out two weeks.

Reyna Carranco leads all Pac-12 batters with a .424 average

This season against Alvelo, she was struck on both hands while swinging at an inside pitch. She suffered a broken left hand and fractured right thumb, forcing her to miss six games before returning against Auburn in the Tucson Regional.

“Nothing crazy,” Carranco said when asked about her thoughts about facing Alvelo and Washington again. “I’m just excited. It’s still just a game and I have to play.”

Carranco has not played in the field at second base since her return. She is still trying to feel comfortable closing her glove on ground balls hit to her sides.

As the designated hitter in Arizona’s last four postseason games, Carranco is still adjusting in her return, batting .250 (3 for 12) with one RBI, two walks and two strikeouts. Her season average is a Pac-12-best .424.

“Every day I come out here (to practice) it’s another day to find out where’s she’s at,” Candrea said. “I know offensively right now she can help us and will be in the lineup. Whether she’s ready to put on a glove and do what she needs to do defensively is another question.

“It’s something I’m not trying to push and the reason for that is (replacement) Hanah Bowen has done a really good job … either way, we’re going to have those two in the lineup. We’ll take it game-by-game and see what happens.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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.

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