Arizona softball was in a class of its own this weekend, as it swept the Hillenbrand Invitational, winning all five games of the tournament with a run differential of +33.
On Sunday, the 10th-ranked Wildcats wrapped up the tournament with a 10-2 win over Tulsa in six innings.
“It was a good weekend, a little bit of jitters,” UA head coach Mike Candrea said.
“We’re right where we need to be and we just need to get better, but I like what I see. I like the depth. I like the young kids that we’ve got in the program and I think some of our seniors stepped up really well.”
Senior left-hander Danielle O’Toole capped off a strong weekend Sunday, tossing six innings, allowing two runs (both unearned) while striking out six.
“I was impressed with Danielle, I always am,” Candrea said. “I think she’s a really good pitcher and maybe that’s why she made the national team.”
O’Toole (3-0) pitched 26 innings in three games this weekend, striking out 28, while allowing 21 hits and three runs (two unearned).
“I felt as good as I have in a long time about our pitching staff. I think it’s going to get nothing but better and better,” Candrea said.
O’Toole was given plenty of run support early as the Wildcats quickly jumped on Tulsa, scoring runs in each of the first three innings.
In the bottom of the first, shortshop Mo Mercado launched a three-run homer to left-center to put UA up 3-0.
The Wildcats added two more runs in the second inning when a hard-hit grounder by Dejah Mulipola bounced over the shortstop’s glove, scoring Mandie Perez and Jessie Harper to make it a 5-0 ballgame.
Katiyana Mauga then blasted a solo homer in the third inning to extend Arizona’s lead to 6-0.
Arizona finished with nine hits, as seven different Wildcats joined the hit parade, putting UA’s depth on display.
Perez and Harper led the team with two hits a piece.
“It’s a game of production from here on out,” Candrea said. “I think they understand it and they all want to play but it really comes down to who’s hot in that particular weekend and you ride it.”
Tulsa scored its two runs in the fifth inning after O’Toole worked herself into some trouble. She hit the first batter, before allowing a single. Then a third runner reached base on a fielder’s choice to load the bases with none out.
O’Toole struck out the next batter for the first out, but then a sharp grounder to shortstop got past Mercado, plating two runs.
“I thought we did some good things offensively. I thought we did some good things on the mound. We got the six (early) runs and I thought we lost it for a couple innings but got it right back,” Candrea said.
It was only Arizona’s second error of the season.
“It’s really nice when you look behind you,” O’Toole said of UA’s defense. “I’m a groundball pitcher, I don’t strike people out ... so I’m going to need the defense and they’re always there.”
The Wildcats ended the game in the sixth, scoring four runs in the frame to run-rule the Hurricane.
Alyssa Palomino singled to right to drive in two runs, Mercado drove in her fourth run of the game as she reached on a botched throw by the first baseman, and then Tamara Statman ended the game with an RBI groundout.
Arizona hit .381 in the first five games and scored 47 runs. Meanwhile its pitchers allowed six runs (two unearned), and delivered two shutouts (one by O’Toole and one by Taylor McQuillin).
Mulipola and Perez led the team in hitting, batting .529 and .500, respectively.
Three others — Mercado, Mauga, and Harper — hit over .400.
Mauga hit five homers in the tournament, putting her 16 homers shy of tying UA’s all-time record.
“This was a really strong opening weekend for us,” Candrea said. “The teams that we brought were not ones that we could afford to play around too much with.”
The Wildcats improved their record to 107-3 all-time in the Hillenbrand Invitational.
Arizona returns to action Thursday against Drake when it begins the Wildcat Invitational.
The tournament calls for the Wildcats to host six games in a four-day stretch with games against Drake (twice), Ball State, Abilene Christian, Boston College, and North Dakota State.
Season batting stats
Other Hillenbrand Invitational recaps
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