The Arizona Wildcats held the Wildcat Invitational this weekend, putting them up against some favorable competition. BYU, James Madison, Mount St. Mary's, St. Francis and UTEP all made their way to Tucson. Among this group, only James Madison was ranked, cracking the top 10 in this week's poll.
Arizona finished off the weekend with a 4-2 record, and advance to a 15-7 record overall, closing in on the halfway point of the season. Heading into the weekend, Arizona was 96-3 all-time in the Wildcat Invitational and hadn't lost a game since 2008.
Day 1: BYU
Arizona had ace Danielle O'Toole out on the mound, in a performance that kept Arizona in the game, but the bats could not generate the runs. Arizona struck in the first inning, giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead, but freshman Libby Sugg blasted a home run 260 feet over the left center field wall to tie the game up for BYU. O'Toole gave up another home run in the 3rd inning, with the Cougars doubling up on Arizona.
Mandie Perez worked her way on base with a double and Ashleigh Hughes was able to bring her home to tie the game once again. An error at second base by Hughes ended up giving BYU a 4-2 lead in the fifth, putting Arizona in a position of need to generate some runs against a great pitcher in McKenna Bull. Bull proved to be too much, allowing only one hit in the final three innings, holding off a comeback.
"Tough defeat," head coach Mike Candrea said after the loss. "But I think this team has got a lot to learn and we have a lot of young kids that haven't been through the wars yet. And this was one of the wars tonight and we just couldn't win. We had a plan but couldn't execute the plan."
"Thought O'Toole threw well enough to win but we just have to get some production throughout the lineup instead of just one or two people," Candrea said with frustration.
Candrea has said all season that this isn't the same team offensively as last year, losing over half of their production in almost every batting statistic. And with Eva Watson's injury, who is still a couple weeks away from returning, he's trying to find a lineup that can produce.
"Our lineup is really kind of what it is," Arizona's head coach explained. "We don't have a lot of options. We'd love to get Eva [Watson] back, I think that's one thing. But we're not getting much production from five on down, other than [Tamara] Statman tonight with a couple of hits. I just think overall our production is not where it needs to be."
Day 2: Mount St. Mary's & BYU
Clearly Mike Candrea was not pleased with the production, or lack thereof against BYU. The team responded to whatever message was sent and came out with bats on Friday morning, leading to a 15-6 win over Mount St. Mary's in a five-inning decision. Taylor McQuillin took the circle and came out with a win.
Now came time for a rematch with the Cougars, with O'Toole getting the nod once again. There wasn't much action until the second inning, when Katiyana Mauga went opposite field to give Arizona a 1-0 lead with her second home run of the day. Arizona came back in the fourth inning to find a way on base and took advantage of a costly BYU error that allowed Arizona to grab a 4-1 lead. Fast forward to the sixth inning, where Katiyana Mauga gave O'Toole some more insurance, hitting her third home run of the day, seventh of the season and 53rd of her career. O'Toole brought the game home to give Arizona a 6-1 win.
Day 3: Saint Francis & UTEP
The third day called for Saint Francis, who jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning against Danielle O'Toole. But Arizona started chipping away at the lead, with a Lauren Young home run in the fourth. Then in the fifth inning, the Arizona bats came alive. Katiyana Mauga hit a solo home run, followed shortly by Lauren Young once again, who brought home another two runs and all of a sudden Arizona was up 5-2. Mandie Perez added a home run of her own in the sixth to go up 6-2. Nancy Bowling came in to relieve Danielle O'Toole, who fought off a late comeback, securing a 6-4 win.
Candrea went back to freshman Taylor McQuillin in the rotation, who held UTEP in check. An unearned run went through in the third to give the Miners a 1-0 lead, but that would be the only run they would produce all night. This was when the Katiyana Mauga and Mandie Perez show continued for the offense, bringing home a combined eight runs on the night. Arizona went on to win 9-1.
Day 4: No. 10 James Madison
The final game of the Wildcat Invitational put 15th-ranked Arizona up against 10th-ranked James Madison, who entered the game with only one loss on the season. Mike Candrea went with Taylor McQuillin for this matchup, wanting his freshman pitcher to get big game experience and for Danielle O'Toole to get some rest after this weekend. O'Toole will be pitching vs. James Madison on Wednesday.
Arizona took advantage of a passed ball at first and strung together a couple of hits to give McQuilliin a two-run lead in the first inning and things looked promising. From there, James Madison chipped away at the lead and produced four runs to bring home the 4-2 win. Arizona left ten runners on base and couldn't get much going on offense, which left Candrea frustrated once again.
"We just gave up a lot of at-bats in the middle of the game and that's something we have to get better at," Candrea said after the loss. "A few things we need to get better at. A few holes in the lineup, honestly, to put it bluntly. And defensively we just can't keep making these mistakes and expect to stay in ball games."
"We just have to get better. I'm serious."
Arizona Softball will hit the field again on Wednesday, March 9th to take on No. 10 James Madison once again at 6 PM MT.