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Arizona softball: Wildcats look for revenge against No. 6 Oregon in crucial three-game series

A Pac-12 title is potentially on the line at Hillenbrand Stadium this weekend

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Two top-10 teams going at it. ESPN in town. A Pac-12 title potentially at stake.

What more could you ask for?

“We’re expecting it to feel like the postseason,” said Arizona shortstop Mo Mercado.

No. 3 Arizona hosts a three-game series against No. 6 Oregon this weekend, as two of the nation’s top teams will square off at Hillenbrand Stadium.

“We have a lot of alumni coming into town. The place should be rocking,” UA head coach Mike Candrea said. “And I hope we’re the ones that are rocking it.”

Oregon has been the one rocking Arizona lately. The Ducks swept the Wildcats in 2016, outscoring them 17-0 in three games in Eugene.

The year before that, Oregon took two of three from Arizona in Tucson.

The Wildcats haven’t forgotten.

“I think we have some redemption to go against Oregon,” said UA center fielder Alyssa Palomino. “Last time we played them was a rough one for us, but we have them at home now and there’s no better place to play.”

Both teams enter with gaudy numbers. Oregon is 37-4 with a 10-4 conference record, good for third place in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, Arizona is 43-3 with a league-best 13-2 Pac-12 mark.

The two teams are at the top of the conference in nearly every major statistical category. Arizona is first in the conference in batting average (.350). Oregon is second (.330). The Wildcats are first in ERA (1.01). The Ducks are second (1.21).

Arizona is first in runs scored. Oregon is, you guessed it, second. But while the results are similar, the process is different.

The Wildcats lead the Pac-12 (and the nation) in homers with 79. Oregon, which has only hit 33 homers this season, leads the Pac-12 in stolen bases and sacrifice hits.

“I know they got a lot of speed,” said Mercado, whose sister plays for the Ducks. “They like to steal bags. They’re aggressive. Good pitching. They play the game well so we just have to be ready to go, and for me as an infielder, I have to be ready to cover bags and try to be one step ahead.”

The two teams have another thing in common, too — they both lost their respective series last weekend.

Oregon dropped two of three to No. 12 Washington in Eugene. Arizona lost two of three to No. 14 Utah in Salt Lake City.

Candrea said the Utah series was disappointing for him because the Wildcats couldn’t get the timely hits they needed. Arizona scored just 10 runs in the three games as its 26-game winning streak was snapped.

“Coach said getting those two losses was like a slap in the face and we’ll see how we react,” Mercado said. “I think we’re going to react well.”

Arizona played a doubleheader against New Mexico State on Tuesday in Las Cruces, giving the Wildcats a much-needed opportunity to get “healthy mentally”, as Candrea put it, before the Oregon series.

They took advantage of it as Arizona won both games in convincing fashion and got its offense back on track, scoring 19 runs and blasting eight homers in the two games.

“We learned from that one,” Mercado said, referring to the Utah series. “We flushed it and now we’re going to come out this weekend and hopefully it motivates us to win.”

Oregon has won the Pac-12 every year since 2013, but the Wildcats — with revenge in mind and a sold-out home crowd behind them — can put that streak in serious jeopardy this weekend with a series win.

“It’s as close to postseason as you’re going to get,” Candrea said. “It should be an exciting time.”


Schedule

Friday, April 21

  • Oregon at Arizona — 5 p.m | Pac-12 Networks

Saturday, April 22

  • Oregon at Arizona — 2 p.m. | ESPN2

Sunday, April 23

  • Oregon at Arizona — 12 p.m. | ESPN2

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire