To help raise awareness for the Capital One Cup and chat about some NCAA softball, former Arizona Wildcat great Jennie Finch joined me to preview the upcoming NCAA Softball Tournament.
Arizona opens up regional play Friday night at 8 PM against Boston University at Hillenbrand Stadium and the game can be seen on ESPNU.
While Finch will be calling games next weekend during the Super Regionals, she will not be in Tucson to do these games. Adam Amin and Amanda Scarborough will be on the call. The Wildcats will be well-prepared for the NCAA Tournament thanks to a Pac-12 that produced five of the top 12 seeds this year.
"The Pac-12 prepares you for the postseason," Finch said. "That kind of competition every weekend (gets you ready)."
LSU, the second-best team in the Tucson Regional, also had a great conference to deal with by playing in the SEC. The Tigers managed to go 13-11 in the tough SEC. By comparison, Arizona went 14-10 in the Pac-12.
When I asked Jennie Finch for her tournament favorites, two came from the Pac-12, and two came from the SEC. UCLA and Pac-12 Champs Oregon make up her West Coast picks, while the SEC-champion Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide were her two other faves.
She really liked Oregon, saying that they're "out to prove something" after being eliminated in the Eugene Super Regional last year by Nebraska. The Ducks were the No. 3 overall seed last year, and are the No. 1 seed this year.
But back to Arizona: this is a different Wildcats team, and as Jennie pointed out, it's really been a different era in all of college softball the last couple of years. More runs are being scored than ever before, and all of the sudden, more schools have a legit chance at winning a National Championship than the game's ever had.
"There's just so much parity," she said. "The top 20 teams are all really good and have a chance at winning this."
But as is the case with basically every sport, she said tournament play comes down to "whoever gets hot" and what teams have the best "team camaraderie." And ultimately, the National Champ will probably be led by whichever team has the hottest pitcher.
Even though Arizona leads the nation in home runs this season, it "all starts in the circle," Finch said. And she would know that better than anyone. In her time at Arizona from 1999-2002, Finch put up a record of 119-16, the third-most wins in the history of the program.
She described this year's Arizona pitching staff as more of "pitching by committee," and now that Kenzie Fowler is out for the season, that's never been more true.
Estela Pinon will likely be the go-to pitcher for Mike Candrea and the Arizona staff, but don't be surprised if any and all pitchers have a short-leash during the postseason, as the Wildcats can run out four different pitchers who have significant experience this season.
So can Arizona overcome this? Jennie Finch says that as long as the pitchers continue to "compliment each other" with their styles, and just focus on the task in front of them, the Wildcats should do just fine.
Hosting this weekend is a huge advantage for the Cats. This year, Arizona went 28-2 at home, while managing just a 7-8 record on the road, and 6-3 in neutral site games. Hillenbrand has always been that way though. Finch said that after she graduated, players would tell her how much they hated playing in Hillenbrand because of the Tucson fans' passion and the atmosphere that's created.
Back during the 2001 National Championship run, Arizona hosted the regional round as well. Jennie Finch has some pretty great memories from that postseason, but the thing that still sticks out to her is the superstitions that team had.
There were eight seniors that season. She said the entire team was rallying behind them and coach Candrea to bring home a National Championship.
But it all came down to the pregame ritual.
Before each game, the team would get together in the same room, and watch the same highlight video. Superstitiously, everyone had to sit in the same seats each every time. Everybody was all in on that team, no matter how silly the rituals seemed.
One day, a storm came through and messed up the pregame routine for the team, which sent everyone into a panic. But Candrea came up with a room for them all to watch the video in, but of course it wasn't the same.
Somehow, the Wildcats rallied even after that mishap, considering that team went 8-0 in the postseason, finishing with a 1-0 win over UCLA in the title game.
Hopefully something similar happens at the end of this 2014 postseason run -- that each and every player on this team buys in, and team chemistry will win-out over a star-pitcher and bring home some hardware.
Thanks again to Jennie Finch and the Capital One Cup for the opportunity to chat! You can