Mississippi State coach Samantha Ricketts faced Super Regional pitching-coach counterpart Taryne Mowatt-McKinney in another Super Regional 14 years ago when both were in college.
Arizona defeated Oklahoma and Ricketts in two out of three games at Hillenbrand Stadium in 2008 to reach the Women’s College World Series. Mowatt-McKinney and Ricketts were seniors.
Caitlin Lowe was a senior at Arizona in 2007 when the Wildcats lost two games to the Sooners and Ricketts in the Judi Garman Classic at Fullerton, Calif.
When Arizona beat Oklahoma 5-2 in the deciding Super Regional championship game in 2008, Ricketts hit a home run off Mowatt-McKinney — the winning pitcher who struck out six, walked two and scattered eight hits in a complete-game performance.
Ricketts also played against Arizona third-base coach Lauren Lappin during their pro softball careers.
“You look at that coaching staff, I’ve had the opportunity to play against all three of them and they’ve all played at a high level,” Ricketts said Thursday during a press conference.
Ricketts was respectful of Arizona’s program when asked about this weekend’s best-of-three matchup that starts Friday at 9 a.m. at Mississippi State’s Nusz Park. The game will be televised by ESPNU.
“We know going into this series and playing a very storied program like the Arizona Wildcats it really is an honor to be in a Super Regional against a program with the type of history that they have,” Ricketts said. “I know for me and for a lot of these girls on the team, we grew up watching them play in the World Series. Just for a program that’s been there year after year, I think we have a lot of respect for them.
“That is our goal as a program as well, to be a team that is in a Super Regional and working for a World Series year after year.”
Mississippi State (37-25) reached the Super Regional round for the first time after upsetting No. 2 Florida State last weekend in the Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional.
Arizona (36-20) is in its eighth straight Super Regional, 16th overall out of the 17 years since the round was created.
“We’re excited for the opportunity, but I think our focus always goes back to us and to our dugout,” said Ricketts, in her third season as head coach. “We’re going to respect our opponent. We’re going to prepare for them. We’re going to take it seriously, but we know we have to be focused on what we can control and that’s every pitch that we throw or that we’re looking to hit in the box.”
The Bulldogs’ catcher Mia Davidson and left fielder Chloe Malau’ulu (daughter of former Arizona quarterback George Malau’ulu) are the team’s leaders as All-SEC and NFCA All-South Region selections.
Davidson is the SEC’s career home run leader. Her 90 home runs rank fifth in NCAA history. She leads the SEC with 21 homers and had the highest on-base percentage (.580) in conference games.
Malau’ulu was tied for third in the conference with eight doubles in league play. Her .352 batting average led the Bulldogs in SEC games, and her .535 slugging percentage and .465 on-base percentage were second only to Davidson.
Ricketts said she is impressed with Arizona’s overall play — “They are fundamentally a strong team,” she said — mentioning that the Wildcats’ power hitting and pitching and defense of late has caught her attention.
Arizona is coming off two consecutive shutout wins at Missouri in the Columbia (Mo.) Regional last weekend behind complete-game performances by Hanah Bowen and Devyn Netz, game-deciding home runs by Carlie Scupin and Sharlize Palacios, and a defense that didn’t commit an error.
What particularly fascinates Ricketts is Arizona’s ability to advance this far despite an 0-8 start in the Pac-12.
“When you look at them and what they did, particularly in Pac 12 play, starting 0-8 and then going on the run like they did, it reminds me of our team last year,” said Ricketts, whose team started the SEC season 0-13 last year before finishing 8-15 and advancing to the Stillwater (Okla.) Regional in which the Bulldogs lost in the championship round to host Oklahoma State.
“I know that grittiness and determination that it takes to turn it around when nothing’s going your way and you’re in that 0-8 or 0-13 hole in conference play,” Ricketts said. “I’m excited. I think it’s going to be too hard-nosed, gritty teams going out there and competing, giving it their best.
“We’re excited to get on the field with them.”
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.