It was more impressive than the Arizona men's basketball streak of 25 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea led his team to 21 straight Women's College World Series in a row, the near-equivalent of the men's basketball's Elite Eight.
OK, so the competition has more depth in men's basketball. So what? The Streak was a staple of the Wildcats' dominance, one that won them eight national titles. Saturday, on the brink of elimination against the Oklahoma Sooners, that run finally ended.
Zero, as in none, of the Wildcats could find a timely hit. Making matters worse, lead-off hitter and left fielder Brittany Lastrapes broke her hand in Game 1 and miffed an easy catch in an attempt to play before being pulled. Said Candrea:
"This weekend found our holes. Brittany (Lastrapes) came in yesterday evening, told me her hand was broken, and that was not what I wanted to hear. We tried to make a go of it, but couldn't."
Arizona lost 5-2 in the elimination game at Hillenbrand Stadium. It was a mirror image of Game 1 of the Super Regional, where both teams posted enough hits to make it an offensive-themed outing. Only one team, however, pushed those scores to home plate.
The Sooners did damage against UA ace Kenzie Fowler once again, giving up eight hits in the full seven innings. Arizona equaled the hitting count, but they left 11 runners on base, frequently needing a timely hit with two outs. That never came.
The magic from last year's near-title run still couldn't be found. The confidence never oozed, and rather than a focus, players eyes almost looked defeated even when the Wildcats were down by only two runs early. Sooner Ace Keilani Ricketts meanwhile smiled with her second homer of the series that gave OU its lead. That smile kept coming as she kept pitching herself out of jams.
Meanwhile, Arizona looked lost. Lini Koria smashed a two-run homer in the seventh inning, the single punch Arizona would throw in the series.
What's it mean going forward? After all, history told me Candrea would push the right buttons to make the Wildcats rally. The answer lies in this growing fact; college softball, similarly to European basketball post the Dream Team, is growing stronger with parity.
See last year as proof. The Wildcats fought off a nasty Hofstra team just to even get to the Super Regional round.
And you know what, Candrea can do nothing but smile and blame himself. It was he and equally-dominant UCLA that kept (keeps could be used as well) winning titles in the sport. Those teams produced the faces of softball, namely Jennie Finch, who would spend their careers endorsing the game all over.
Now, little girls who watched Finch are realizing one thing; they don't need to go to Arizona to win. They can create their own legends by beating the Wildcats.
Again, look at the smile on Keilani Ricketts' face. Beating the Wildcats is what she just did. And for the Wildcat players, well, they now know the truth. Said senior Lauren Schutzler:
"This season has taught me a lot as a person. You get what you deserve, and we just didn't put the work in during the off season."
Going to Arizona, and only that, no longer means you're going to win. Nowadays, you too have to earn it like anyone else.