The Arizona Wildcats were off to a roaring start this season, boasting a 6-0 record, ranked No. 9 in the nation. This weekend, the team headed to Palm Springs, CA for the Mary Nutter Classic, giving Mike Candrea's team their toughest test yet.
Included in the invitational were No. 4 LSU, No. 15 UCF, No. 25 Texas A&M, Cal Poly and Central Michigan.
Day 1: No. 4 LSU Tigers
First up were the 4th-ranked Tigers. Danielle O'Toole got the nod in the circle, pitching her first shutout of the season, striking out eight batters. The speed of the runners produced the offense, with the outfielders combining for four of Arizona's six total hits. The Wildcats didn't get much going until the fifth inning, scoring all three runs in the frame, riding O'Toole out for the 3-0 win.
Day 2: Central Michigan and No. 15 UCF
Arizona returned to the field on Saturday for the first of their double header, taking on Central Michigan. This is the head-scratcher, as the Chippewas went 1-4 this weekend, their lone win coming at the hands of Arizona.
What makes it worse is Central Michigan was losing their games by a combined score of 53-4. Arizona ended up losing 1-4, totaling just four hits off the bats of Mo Mercado and Eva Watson. True freshman pitcher Taylor McQuillin suffered her first loss of the season, with Nancy Bowling coming in for an inning of relief.
UCF was up next and was poised to make things complicated for Arizona. Their starting pitcher for the game, Shelby Turnier, led the NCAA in ERA last season with an 0.87 ERA.
But the team responded vs. the 15th-ranked UCF Knights. Things were all tied up at four heading into the third inning. Arizona added four more runs over the next two innings and then things got out of hand in the sixth inning. The Wildcats pulled off eight consecutive hits, 10 total on the inning, to bring home 11 runs. They would win 19-4 in six innings.
Day 3: No. 25 Texas A&M and Cal Poly
Sunday was not a good day for the team, dropping both games. The first was to No. 25 Texas A&M by a final score of 4-8 and the second to Cal Poly, 0-2. Danielle O'Toole had a rough start for Arizona against the Aggies, lasting 2 2/3 innings, giving up nine hits and seven runs. Nancy Bowling game in for relief and struck out seven of the last 15 batters.
The final game of the Mary Nutter Classic brought the Cal Poly Mustangs up for Arizona. Michelle Floyd got the start for Arizona, got roughed up, and in came Nancy Bowling for more relief. Mustang pitcher Sierra Hyland shut out Arizona, allowing only four hits, needing only two runs of support to bring home the win.
This weekend was a mixed bag for Arizona. Opening it up with a big time win for Danielle O'Toole, shutting out the No. 4 ranked LSU Tigers. The other win came against the next highest ranked team, No. 15 UCF. Outside of that UCF game, Arizona struggled mightily to get on base and bring home the run support.
Mike Candrea had said their offense is going to have to be crafty this season, relying on speed, finding any way they can to get on base. There have been solid contributions on offense this season from Nancy Bowling, Tamara Statman and Mo Mercado, with slugger Katiyana Mauga dishing out most of the power. Arizona had 14 home runs in the Hillenbrand Invitational, but only mashed two in the Mary Nutter Classic.
Given the performance, you might be able to call this weekend a wash. The two wins were great, knowing that Arizona can compete with the top teams. But the three losses, particularly the two from Cal Poly and Central Michigan, were not good looks for the squad.
The team will now head to Alabama next week for the Easton Bama Bash, taking on Marshall and Alabama twice, plus a single matchup against Tennessee.