ESPN harped Thursday during its Women’s College World Series broadcast on the rumor that has surfaced in recent weeks about this being Mike Candrea’s last season with Arizona after 36 years as the most successful coach in NCAA softball history.
Legendary pitcher Jennie Finch, who 20 years ago led Arizona to one of its eight national titles, was in attendance for Thursday’s opening-round game between the Wildcats and Alabama.
ESPN reported that she made a special trip to be at Oklahoma City to join fellow former Wildcats there in the midst of her travel-ball schedule as a coach.
Jessica Mendoza, one of three ESPN broadcasters working the game, asked Finch: “If you have any message to Coach Candrea, knowing that this could be his last time being here, what would it be?”
Finch answered: “We’re just so thankful for who he is and what he’s done. He’s done everything the right way. We love him so dearly. We’re just so thankful for the man that he is.”
Candrea was asked a couple of weeks ago by KGUN-TV Channel 9’s Jason Barr if he had anything left in the tank for more coaching after this season.
“I still have fire in my belly,” Candrea answered.
The rumors have become more rampant since, however, and many of his former players are taking a reflective tone when discussing Candrea on social media. They have used the hashtag “4Coach.”
Jenny Dalton-Hill, for example, tweeted last weekend after Arizona beat Arkansas in the Super Regional at Fayetteville, Ark., “There are no words to adequately portray the amount of love, admiration, respect, and gratitude I have for the man we simply know as “Coach” A simple name that carries the utmost respect because he has carried us all when we needed him most.”
Finch did not hesitate when Mendoza asked the question about Candrea possibly coaching in his last Women’s College World Series.
The greatest pitcher in Arizona history, who set an NCAA record by winning 51 consecutive games, was also asked reflective questions of Candrea by ESPN reporter Holly Rowe.
When asked how Candrea has impacted her, Finch responded, “Just the standard of excellence.”
“I think just pouring into us daily that we’re so much more than just a softball player and he truly is there always for us for whatever we need, when we need it,” Finch continued. “I couldn’t be more proud to be a Wildcat and have been able to play under him and be part of the Wildcat tradition and family.”
Candrea has the most wins in NCAA softball history with a career record of 1,674-434-2. He is fourth in NCAA Division I victories when factoring all the sports.
He also served as Team USA’s coach in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics with Finch on both of those teams along with former Wildcat standout Lovie Jung. Leah O’Brien-Amico was also on the 2004 team that won the gold medal and Caitlin Lowe was on the silver-winning 2008 team.
Lowe is a member of Candrea’s coaching staff along with former Wildcat ace Taryne Mowatt-McKinney.
Candrea holds the NCAA softball record of eight national titles and 24 trips to the WCWS.
“The tradition of 36 years of coaching and so many lives that he’s touched, we’re just so grateful to be part of it,” Finch said.
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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