A winner in 22 straight games, the Arizona softball team returns to action Friday night when it will begin a three-game series against the last-place Stanford Cardinal in Tucson.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats (37-1, 9-0 Pac-12) won five games last week, winning both games of a doubleheader against GCU in Tucson on Wednesday before sweeping three games from Cal in Berkeley on the weekend.
Senior third baseman Katiyana Mauga was named Pac-12 Player of the Week, while freshman centerfielder Alyssa Palomino was the conference’s Freshman of the Week, after both put up monster numbers during the five-game stretch, including two homers a piece.
The long ball has been a lethal form of offense for Arizona this season, as it leads the nation in homers (56).
Three Wildcats lead the Pac-12 in homers, as Mauga and Jessie Harper each have 12 while Palomino is right behind them with 11.
Yet, the Wildcats don’t necessarily rely on the long ball to score. They are second in the Pac-12 in batting average (.342), first in total hits (343), first in doubles (56), and first in walks (168).
“We’re not holding the pressure to hitting a home run every game,” Mauga said. “We’re very versatile this year.”
Added head coach Mike Candrea: “That’s a great part about it. We can score with a short game, we can score with the long ball, we can score with two outs, we can score with no outs. That’s the sign of a good team.”
Another sign of a good team? A dominant pitching staff, which the Wildcats certainly have.
Arizona currently has a team ERA of 0.84, which is the best mark in the Pac-12 and the second-best mark in the country.
No. 1 starter Danielle O’Toole is 19-1 with a 0.74 ERA, while No. 2 starter Taylor McQuillin is 12-0 with a 0.70 ERA. The duo has pitched every inning for Arizona since Pac-12 play started.
“It’s a blessing for us to have a really good pitching staff and I would not hesitate to look at our pitching staff one through four,” Candrea said. “Any of those kids are capable of coming out and giving us a good performance, but [O’Toole] and Taylor have rose to the occasion and have been a very stable part of our rotation and that’s why I haven’t had to mess around much.
“Normally you go into those times when you have to kind of reshuffle things and get something to work but I feel pretty comfortable with where we’re at right now.”
The Cardinal enter the series with a 16-16 record, including an 0-6 conference record.
They are the only Pac-12 team that has not won a conference game yet.
Carranco takes ahold of second base
It was a rough start to the season for Reyna Carranco, but she is quickly turning things around.
The left-handed hitting freshman hit just .151 in non-conference play, but has since upped her average to .256, finding a groove in Pac-12 play, becoming the Wildcats’ everyday starter at second base.
Carranco is 11-for-25 (.440) with five walks in nine conference games, as she has benefitted from an altered approach at the plate.
“She was having difficulty with the outside pitch, and I knew she could slap,” Candrea said. “She doesn’t have great speed, but she has good enough speed that she can utilize her bat control and that’s what she has — she has great hands, great eyes, great bat control and can put the ball on the ground.
“And as our field gets hotter, it gets harder and that’s a good option for her. So we kind of decided that when people are working her away that we’re going to go more to the short game. If they’re trying to throw her in, she can turn on the ball really well and she’s got a good swing, so I think it was just a matter of her understanding what she needed to do to be successful at this level and be able to utilize all of her tools instead of just one of them.”
Carranco usually bats eighth in the Wildcats’ lineup, and Candrea has been happy with the production Arizona has been getting from the bottom of the order as a whole.
“Anytime you can utilize the short game, it’s a blessing,” Candrea said of Carranco. “It’s helped her get on base and I really think that [Tamara] Statman and Ashleigh Hughes and Reyna have been a key being able to get us to turn our lineup over much more because of their success at the bottom.”
Statman, who usually hits seventh, is slashing .329/.448/.461, while Hughes, who usually rounds out the batting order, is hitting .391/.436/437.
With their balanced — and seemingly endless — lineup, the Wildcats are first in the Pac-12 in runs scored (298).
Meanwhile, Stanford has the conference’s worst ERA (4.43), potentially setting up a high-scoring weekend for the Wildcats.
Friday’s series-opener is set to start at 6 p.m. at Hillenbrand Stadium.
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