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Arizona softball: Wildcats to host ASU for rivalry weekend and senior weekend

It’s rivalry week!

Photo by Jason Bartel

If there’s one thing the Arizona softball team is grateful for, it’s that they don’t have have to travel to Tempe for rivalry weekend this year.

The Wildcats will host ASU for a three-game series this weekend, starting on Friday at Hillenbrand Stadium.

“I actually hate going over there,” said UA ace Danielle O’Toole of Tempe. “I’ve only been there a couple of times. I went there when I was at San Diego State for a regional and I was like ‘I freaking hate this place’ and then I came here (to Arizona) and I hated it even more. I don’t like playing up there. I don’t know what it is. I really don’t.”

Mandie Perez says it’s the weather.

“I hate going over there, because it’s so hot,” the UA left fielder said. “I love that [this year’s series] is at Hillenbrand, that my family can come, and I love that we don’t have to travel over there. I’m just happy that they’re coming to our place because it’s going to be full of our fans and I’m kinda excited because they bring people too. They bring busses full of their fans, so it’s kinda exciting to see a bunch of different people coming to watch.”

Arizona (45-4, 15-3 Pac-12) is coming off its first home loss of the season, when it dropped a 4-3 ballgame at the hands of the Oregon Ducks, who were able to avoid a three-game sweep.

“I think we should’ve had it and I take the responsibility for that loss,” said O’Toole, who surrendered two late solo homers to allow the Ducks to escape with the win in the series finale.

“We need a sweep here. I know we should be looking at it a game at a time, but we’re looking to go for it.”

The rare home loss to Oregon kept the Wildcats at third in the national rankings, but they still hold a slim first-place lead over the Utah Utes, who possess a 12-4 conference record.

“I think the first thing our team is thinking of is the rivalry weekend and senior weekend versus ASU, but also finishing off Pac-12 strong and trying to get a Pac-12 Championship under our belts because Arizona hasn’t had it for a while,” said UA pitcher Taylor McQuillin. “That’s the first thing on our mind, and then obviously we’re going to focus on one game at a time.”

Arizona has not won the Pac-12 since 2007, and will have to get through No. 23 ASU and No. 12 UCLA to close out the regular season to change that.

ASU enters this weekend’s series 27-14 overall with a 6-9 mark in conference play. The Sun Devils dropped two of three to Utah last weekend in Tempe.

ASU is seventh in the conference in runs scored, but is fourth in the Pac-12 in homers (44). Shortstop Chelsea Gonzalez spearheads the Sun Devils’ offense, leading the team in batting average (.372), home runs (10), RBIs (41), slugging percentage (.744) and several other categories.

In the circle, ASU is third in the conference in ERA (1.79) and leads the Pac-12 in strikeouts.

The Sun Devils don’t have a prototypical ace, as they have three pitchers that have tossed 70 innings or more, but all three have ERAs under 3.00.

Breanna Macha (1.52 ERA) and Dale Ryndak (1.88 ERA) both rank in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in ERA.

“We’re looking forward to coming back and getting back on track,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said. “ASU is a good team and it’s the Territorial Cup and rivalry weekend and all that good stuff and hopefully we’ll come out and do what we’ve been doing and that’s play the game hard.

“I think it’ll be a good crowd and I think it was good that we had Oregon last week so they could kinda get a feel for what it’s like when this place is rocking.”

Even though it is senior weekend, the Wildcats are likely to have at least a few more home games this season, seeing that they are in a strong position to host a regional, if not a super regional, next month.

They certainly won’t be playing any games in Tempe, though, and they don’t mind.

“I’m excited that we’re here (in Tucson) because I hate going up there,” said O’Toole, who will likely be starting in the circle in Friday’s game.

First pitch is set for 6 p.m. and all three games of the series will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Arizona won two of three versus ASU last season in Tempe. The Wildcats are 92-51-1 all-time against the Sun Devils.

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire