Courtesy Connor Buss
Arizona junior pitcher Alyssa Denham readies a pitch against UCLA during the Wildcats’ game in Westwood on Friday, May 10.
The marine layer settled into UCLA’s Easton Stadium this weekend like a cold, damp blanket–forcing players and coaches alike to grab their heaviest jackets.
The damp, chilly weather off the field contrasted the red-hot action on it, as two of the nation’s hottest softball teams battled it out.
Both visiting Arizona and the mighty Bruins entered the weekend series ranked in the top-10 nationally, with the former ranked sixth and the latter third in the latest polls.
Both sides traded blows on the perfectly manicured playing surface in Westwood all weekend long, with the Wildcats coming away with two wins in three tries.
The series win was the team’s first over the Bruins since the 2011 season, representing another monumental achievement for a Wildcats team that’s strung wins together with ease this spring, entering the NCAA Tournament with a 42-12 record to their name.
The two west coast powers engaged in a weekend to remember, with the Wildcats storming back from multiple deficits to win game one on Thursday night, 5-3.
The coup de gras for the Wildcats in Thursday’s opener was a go-ahead, three-run home run off the bat of redshirt junior outfielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza in the top of the seventh inning.
The home run, which came off UCLA ace Rachel Garcia, gave the visitors a two-run lead they’d never relinquish.
A night later, the Bruins exacted a measure of revenge, scoring three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to erase a one-run lead by the Wildcats.
Saturday’s series finale featured a home run by a spot-starter that has split time between the field and the pitcher’s circle, as Hanah Bowen smacked her first career homer to open the scoring.
Teammate Malia Martinez added on with a two-run home run of her own to give Arizona. 3-0 entering the fourth inning.
Pitcher Gina Snyder earned the win on Saturday, pitching five innings of one-run ball to improve her yearlong record to 5-0 for the Wildcats.
Courtesy Connor Buss
Arizona shortstop Jessie Harper is met by her teammates during the Wildcats’ game against UCLA on Friday, May 10.
The win propelled Arizona into a national seed in the NCAA Softball Tournament, meaning the Wildcats won’t have to leave Tucson until the Women’s College World Series, should they reach that point.
Mike Candrea’s team has not reached the WCWS in Oklahoma City since 2010, with their last title coming in 2007.
Candrea’s team will have their first chance to host a regional in the newly-renovated Rita Hillenbrand Stadium this weekend.
His team will host Auburn University, Colorado State and Harvard in the Tucson regional between Friday, May 17 and Sunday, May 19.
Candrea, who has coached at Arizona since 1986, talked about the meaning of hosting the regional in the team’s $15 million upgraded facility.
“Well anytime I go in that facility I love it, so it's been a blessing and it's been a lot of fun,” Candrea said. “I think it’ll be a great kick off for the new facility.”
The Wildcats enter the first weekend of the tournament with a full head of momentum, thanks to their gutsy performance in Westwood.
A trip to Oklahoma City is around the corner, with the Wildcats having their best chance in years to reach the sport’s biggest stage for the first time in close to a decade.
Candrea’s team is on the doorstep of history, seeming to emerge from the fog of recent postseason stumbles.
Here’s hoping the team’s breakthrough in the gloomy weather of Southern California can lead to sunny skies in the weeks ahead.