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Arizona softball: Mike Candrea wins 1,500th game as Wildcats complete sweep of Washington

It was a historic day for Arizona softball

Mike Candrea looks on as Arizona celebrates a home run by Mo Mercado
Jason Bartel

A 10-gallon bucket filled to the brim with ice water was being hauled out of the Arizona dugout, and Mike Candrea knew what was coming his way.

He began to backpedal, attempting to distance himself from the oncoming swarm of players.

“I tried to,” Candrea said. “I thought I was away from it.”

He wasn’t.

The Wildcats doused the 32-year head coach after he won his 1,500th career game on Sunday, as they beat No. 6 Washington 5-2 to compete a three-game sweep of the Huskies.

“They’re a great team and to cap off the weekend with a sweep and to finish the weekend off strong and at home, I mean, it’s awesome,” UA shortshop Mo Mercado said. “I’m just so happy to be a part of it and lucky to play for a guy like Coach Candrea.”

Candrea, 61, became the second coach in NCAA history to reach the 1,500-win mark as the fifth-ranked Wildcats improved to 32-1 on the season.

After the game, fans were given placards with ‘1,500’ plastered on the front, while a commemorative video sharing Candrea’s best moments at the UA was displayed on the video board.

Interim athletic director Erika Barnes, Candrea’s former player, congratulated him before handing him the microphone.

“One of the great things about longevity is you get a chance to work for one of your former players,” Candrea joked, as the sold-out crowd roared in laughter.

“This is a milestone for this program. ... There’s a lot of people that go into this milestone, me being one, but truthfully there’s been a lot of great players, a lot of great coaches, a great administration that has supported us over the years, and for me to be able to find something that I have a passion for — and that is the game of baseball, the game of softball — I’ve been on a baseball field or softball field since I was 5 years old, so I always tell people that I’ve lived a blessed life, I’ve come to work everyday and never thought it was work. It’s always been fun and really the credit goes to the players behind me.”

Candrea, already the winningest coach in D1 softball history, reached the 1,500-win mark faster than any coach in any sport in NCAA history and has won eight national titles at Arizona since joining the program in 1986.

“Coming to a school like this, there’s so much tradition, and so many great athletes have come before us and just to be part of it and be on the team for this special day ... it’s something I’ll always remember,” said Mercado, before being hugged by Candrea during her post-game interview.

Mercado, in her fourth season under Candrea, got things started for the Wildcats on the historic day. The senior broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning with a two-run homer to left.

An inning later, redshirt freshman Alyssa Palomino added a two-run homer of her own, extending UA’s lead to 4-0 through five.

The milestone victory was getting closer, and the Wildcats weren’t going to let it slip away.

“This was for him,” Palomino said. “This wasn’t for us.”

Arizona added another insurance run in the sixth on an RBI single by Jessie Harper, and the Huskies responded with two runs in the seventh, but Danielle O’Toole (15-1) would stop the bleeding there.

The redshirt senior tossed her 13th complete game of the season, cementing Candrea’s landmark win.

“Washington is a very good team and we played very well,” Candrea said. “We got great pitching, played great defense, and the timely hitting was unbelievable. We know we can make it happen, but I think the big thing about this team right now is they’re playing loose, they’re playing relaxed.”

It is the 16th win in the row for the Wildcats, who are 6-0 to start Pac-12 play.

“We have this little saying that it’s another wiffleball game today because you don’t think when you play wiffleball,” Candrea said. “And we’ve got some great athletes right now. We walk out on the field, expecting to be able to play the game at a high level and we’re doing that.”

And have been doing that for 32 years now, as evidenced by Candrea’s win total.

“I think the one thing I’m proud of is that Arizona softball has been one to set a standard,” he said. “A very high standard and all we’re trying to do is continue to reach that each and everyday.”

Candrea’s favorite thing throughout the three-decade journey? The players.

“What makes it fun is the kids,” he said. “I love every moment.”

Even when they’re pouring water on him.

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire