During the golden age of Arizona Wildcats softball, Selection Sundays were stress-free.
From 1988-2010, the UA almost always hosted NCAA Tournament games. The home games inevitably led to wins – and Women’s College World Series appearances. The Wildcats made 22 of them in 23 years.
Then Arizona hit a lull. The Wildcats haven’t played in the WCWS since 2010. They’ve hosted only one super regional during that span, falling to Oklahoma in 2011.
This year, things are different. The Wildcats won the Pac-12 last weekend, earning the conference’s automatic bid into the tournament and securing their 31st consecutive postseason appearance.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats have an outside shot at the No. 1 overall seed thanks to the Pac-12 title and impressive overall resume, particularly after Florida was upset in the first round of the SEC Tournament. However, late-season struggles likely will keep the Wildcats somewhere in the in the No. 2-4 range alongside Florida, Auburn, Florida State and Oregon.
Arizona has put itself in position for a favorable path back to Oklahoma City, just like the old days.
Here are three things to know about the Wildcats heading into the NCAA Selection Show, which starts at 7 p.m. Sunday:
1. The best route to Oklahoma City is through the Old Pueblo
It’s no secret that Arizona has a major homefield advantage at Hillenbrand Stadium, which is packed for every regular-season game. It only gets more crowded, and loud, in the playoffs.
Arizona has advanced to Oklahoma City by way of Tucson on 17 occasions.
Overall, the Wildcats have a 74-10 record at home in postseason play.
2. The Wildcats have been struggling lately
The Wildcats closed out the regular season losing two of four Pac-12 series, though their victories came against third-ranked Oregon and No. 22 Arizona State. The losses came to 10th-ranked UCLA and No. 13 Utah, where UA lost two of three in both series.
Arizona went 6-6 in its final 12 conference games, and some players are scuffling.
Mo Mercado is hitting 6 for 27 (.222) in her last nine games; Alyssa Palomino, the Pac-12 leader in RBIs most of the season, has driven in just four runs in her last 15 games, and slugger Katiyana Mauga has only one home run in her last seven games.
Pitcher Taylor McQuillin has a 4.88 ERA in her last six appearances.
“We’ve had some setbacks but I’m glad they didn’t come back to haunt us because they could have,” UA coach Mike Candrea said. “But I think this team is well prepared and they just need to realize what’s ahead of them.”
3. Statistically speaking, the Wildcats are in great shape
Even after a late-season skid where hitters are cold, pitchers have been less dominant and the fielders have struggled, the Wildcats are still statistically stacked.
Arizona is the only team in the nation to rank in the nation’s top-15 in batting average, home runs, ERA and fielding percentage. In the last five years, only three teams finished the season ranked similarly, and all three made it to Oklahoma City.
The Cats, led by senior ace Danielle O’Toole, carries a 1.35 team ERA. O’Toole (27-4) leads the Pac-12 in ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts. McQuillin (15-3) is seventh in ERA and fourth in strikeouts.
“Tooly and Taylor, they’ve both been doing great for us,” Mercado said. “It’s our job to produce as an offense. Even some games they’ve gotten losses for has been a reflection of our offense, not even so much the pitching.”
Outside of the UCLA series, in which the Wildcats were held scoreless in two losses, producing runs hasn’t been much of an issue this season.
Arizona ranks sixth nationally in batting average, first in home runs, third in runs scored, fourth in on-base percentage and second in slugging. Just one regular (Tamara Statman) is hitting below .300, and five are hitting better than .340. The Wildcats are the only team with three players (Jessie Harper, Mauga and Palomino) who have hit 15 or more home runs.
Arizona’s fielding percentage of 97.6 is tops in the Pac-12 and 14th nationally.
“I think we’ve done a good job all year of focusing day to day, and I think that’s how we’ve won in the first place, because we’re putting everything into that one day,” outfielder Mandie Perez said. “I don’t think that mindset will change or that moment will change.”
On Selection Sunday, Arizona Wildcats will find out path to WCWS have 717 words, post on www.annistonstar.com at 2017-05-14 00:15:43. This is cached page on World Headlines. If you want remove this page, please contact us.