This weekend, two strikingly similar teams will take the diamond at Hillenbrand Stadium, as the Arizona softball team is set to host the Washington Huskies for a three-game series.
“Washington is a very similar. Absolutely,” UA head coach Mike Candrea said. “It will be a very, very good matchup.”
Like the fifth-ranked Wildcats, the sixth-ranked Huskies are in the top three in the Pac-12 in batting average, ERA, and fielding percentage this season.
Both teams are on double-digit winning streaks, too.
“They’re a good team. Very balanced,” Candrea said of UW. “Good pitching. Good offense. Good defense. So we’re going to have to play well and I think that’s the sign from here on out. You play good teams, you have to play well. And the team that makes fewer mistakes, gets the key hit, makes the key pitch, makes the key play is the team that’s going to win. It comes at a good time for us.”
Arizona (29-1, 3-0 Pac-12) has won 14 straight since suffering its only loss of the season to No. 1 Florida State on Feb. 25. The Wildcats swept Oregon State in Corvallis to begin Pac-12 play last weekend after beating Long Beach State and No. 9 Oklahoma in southern California earlier in the week.
Its 29-1 start is Arizona’s best start since 2004.
Meanwhile, Washington (26-3, 3-0 Pac-12) has won 10 games in a row and is coming off a sweep of ASU and two wins over GCU.
“We just have to go out and do what we do well and we’ll be preparing this week,” Candrea said.
Arizona leads the Pac-12 in nearly every offensive category, but Washington’s pitching staff enters Friday’s series-opener with a 1.79 ERA, which ranks 22nd in the country.
“I think the biggest thing is pitch selection,” Candrea said. “Trying to keep your plan simple, but you’re going to hit strikes, you’re going to take balls, but when you get a strike you gotta be able to square it up. You’re not going to get a lot of opportunities against good pitching so you gotta really be prepared for that. The discipline at the plate will be important, our ability to do the little things, whether we need a bunt or whatever it may be, use the ground, and I think really I think the bottom half of the order is going to be important because those are the people that allow us to turn that lineup over often.”
On the flip side, Arizona enters with the third-best ERA in the nation (0.95) while Washington is third in the country in batting average (.361) and sixth in the country in runs scored per game (7.14).
The Wildcats dropped two of three to the Huskies last season in Seattle, but Arizona enters Friday’s game with a 14-0 record at Hillenbrand Stadium. UW is 18-3 away from home this year.
“We look forward to having them here on campus instead of being up in Seattle,” Candrea said. “That’s for damn sure.”
Arizona is 3-1 against ranked teams this season.
Jessie Harper wins Pac-12 Player and Freshman of the Week
Arizona freshman first baseman Jessie Harper was the Pac-12 Player of the Week and the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week last week.
As Arizona went 5-0, Harper was 7-for-14 with two homers and three doubles.
In the last two weeks, Harper is 18-for-34 with five doubles, five homers, and a 1.177 slugging percentage.
Harper has 10 homers this season, placing her in a tie for the team-lead with Katiyana Mauga as well as tied for eighth in the country as a whole.
“That’s definitely a sign of your recruiting,” Candrea said. “When you have honors like that it shows that you’re picking the right people, and for a freshman to come here and do the job that she’s has has been a pretty good thing. We’re very, very excited about her future.”
Harper, who was a member of the Premier Girls Fastpitch All-American team, is hitting .380 this season with 28 RBIs.
Dejah Mulipola suffers finger injury, will likely play vs. UW
Freshman catcher Dejah Mulipola has been equally as impressive as Harper this season, but recently she has been dealing with a finger injury that she suffered last Saturday against Oregon State.
The injury forced Mulipola to be removed from the second game of the series in Corvallis and then it held her out of the third game of the series.
“She slid at first base on a play and jammed her finger, to say the least,” Candrea said. “She had a hard time gripping the bat, plus it was cold, but I think this week she’s playing through it right now and getting a little stronger everyday.”
Candrea said he expects Mulipola to give it a go this weekend against Washington.
Mulipola, the Wildcats’ No. 2 hitter, is batting .410 this season with a team-high in RBIs (31) and slugging percentage (.833), plus has eight home runs.
Sophomore catcher Hillary Edior filled in for Mulipola and was 2-for-7 with three RBIs in Corvallis.
Friday, March 24
- No. 6 Washington at No. 5 Arizona — 5 p.m. PST
Saturday, March 25
- No. 6 Washington at No. 5 Arizona — 12 p.m. PST
Sunday, March 26
- No. 6 Washington at No. 5 Arizona — 12 p.m. PST
All games will be televised on the Pac-12 Network
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire