Arizona Softball

Arizona Wildcats Winning While Going Through Learning Pains

After a walk-off home run, it’s not normal to see the head coach pull aside the hero of the moment and point out something wrong.

A snapshot of Sunday afternoon at Hillenbrand Stadium after Jessie Harper hit her 11th home run of the season — a two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth that gave No. 12 Arizona the 8-6 win over 19th-ranked James Madison — coach Mike Candrea motioned Harper to come over to him.

Harper almost committed a base-running error by touching celebrating teammate Hillary Edior while approaching third base. According to Candrea, if Harper, a junior, touched Edior, a senior, before stepping on home plate, it would have been ruled the third out of the inning, negating the two runs.

The game would have went to a ninth inning with the game tied at 6, Candrea said.

“Again, you would think most of these kids who have played a long time would understand things but we still get stupid questions (about rules),” Candrea mentioned. “They just sometimes aren’t students of the game. That’s something that we have to force upon them.

“Know how to play the game. Knowing the rules is a big part of it.”

Harper, who finished 1 of 4 with three RBIs, called it a “blonde moment.”

She also said Edior approaching her was a “bro moment.”

“It’s all good, it’s all good,” she said. “It was just a whole bunch of weirdness. I’m just happy that we won. That was a dogfight. It won’t happen again. We’re well aware of that situation now.”

This replay shows that Harper and Edior did not touch each other but came close:

Arizona, 15-5, keeps winning in spite of itself — the Wildcats committed three errors in the win over James Madison — and it’s obvious that Candrea is frustrated by his comments.

His team has still won 13 of its last 14 games with the lone loss in that stretch to Oklahoma in a one-run game last week at Palm Springs, Calif. The Wildcats won all five of their games in the invitational this weekend.

Of the thriller against James Madison, one in which Arizona blew a 4-0 lead, Candrea said:

“We shouldn’t have got in that situation,” Candrea said. “Trying to get some of the kids to relax while they are playing defense. It’s really crazy. I haven’t seen it.

“It seems like it happens more here than anywhere us. We let them back in the game.”

Taylor McQuillin (7-4) pitched the whole game, finishing with seven strikeouts and only one walk. Two of the runs McQuillin allowed were unearned.

McQuillin went through the first three innings unscathed without allowing a hit to that point. Arizona’s lineup built a 4-0 lead by then behind an RBI single and home run by Malia Martinez.

James Madison rallied for four runs in the fifth inning to tie the game thanks in part to a throwing error by Harper at shortstop on a routine play that would have ended the inning.

Instead, her throw to first base sailed high over the head of first baseman Riley Pierce, allowing the Dukes’ fourth run to cross the plate.

Mike Candrea talks with Jessie Harper after the 8-6 win over James Madison (Javier Morales/

“That was a different one,” Harper said in terms of the error being a different mistake. “It’s not too often that is a throwing error that usually occurs but it was definitely one that I felt responsible not getting out of that inning. Taylor was able to pick me back up.

“I was happy my team was able to pick me up from that. Yeah, definitely have to flush those quick.”

Candrea’s tone of voice was telling with his frustration over the mistakes, which are not common for his teams over the years.

He also was complimentary of the fact that his team managed to fight back with two-out rallies in the seventh and eighth to prolong the game and eventually win it.

Riley Pierce hit the ball strong to second base, and it was misplayed allowing pinch-runner Ivy Davis to score in the seventh to tie the game. In the eight, Reyna Carranco’s RBI double off the center field wall with two outs tied the game again before Harper’s home run.

“I thought overall this weekend we had some really good adjustments,” Candrea said. “I thought we hit the riseball as well as I’ve seen from this team in the last three or four years. I think we’re making some progress.

“But on the other hand, you have to pitch, you have to play defense and you have to hit. Defensively, we’re not going to win too many games with three errors, especially with the way they happened. Just some uncharacteristic things.”

Candrea mentioned that Arizona must play the way it practices — staying relaxed.

“When we get in the game, our motor starts running 100 mph … this game is tough,” said Candrea, who lauded Arizona’s maturity for enabling the Wildcats to win while it undergoes these difficult lessons.

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