“She thought she had a crappy practice,” head coach Mike Candrea said.
It certainly didn’t carry over to the game.
Mauga went 3 for 3 with a homer and a double as Arizona won Game 1 of the Super Regional, 3-2.
“That goes to tell you what batting practice really means,” Candrea joked. “It’s just a warmup.”
Mauga doubled and scored the game’s first run in the first inning, then later hit a solo homer to right to put Arizona up 2-0.
But the at-bat that may get overlooked was Mauga’s nine-pitch walk in the seventh inning.
With the count at 2-2 in a 2-2 ballgame, the third baseman fouled off three straight pitches before a wild pitch from Gia Rodoni skipped to the backstop, allowing Mandie Perez, who led of the inning with a single, to advance to second.
With a base open, Baylor decided to intentionally walk Mauga, and the next two batters singled to lift the Wildcats to victory.
“I think Kati was a big factor tonight. I don’t think they wanted any part of her,” Candrea said. “She was seeing the ball, swinging at good pitches, really just calm.”
Teams often pitch around Mauga, who said she’s learned to be patient in those situations.
“Especially being a senior and pitchers seeing me a lot, I think just being patient and relaxing and not being too anxious up there definitely helped me,” she said. “If I’m swinging out of my shoes, that’s not something I would want or the team would want."
Mauga’s clutch at-bat didn’t surprise Candrea. Aside from her power, the other thing he noticed while recruiting her is she always had a knack for making a timely play.
“I’ve always said that the one thing that impressed me with Kati is her being so clutch,” he said. “It seemed like every game I watched her, she was driving in the winning run. She, as a young kid, really embraces those moments. It’s nice to see that she’s still doing that.”
Mauga is hitting 6 for 11 with three homers and six RBIs in the postseason.
Her solo homer against Baylor was the 92nd of her career, putting her just three shy of tying the NCAA’s all-time record, which is held by former Oklahoma Sooner Lauren Chamberlain.
O’Toole stays O’Cool
Arizona led 2-0 heading into the sixth, but Danielle O’Toole promptly surrendered a triple to Kyla Walker and a two-run homer to Ari Hawkins, which erased the Wildcats’ lead.
But it didn’t rattle O’Toole who retired the next six batters she faced, putting the Wildcats in position to win the game in the bottom of the seventh.
“I’ve never seen her where her emotions were controlling her,” Candrea said. “She always seems to be in control and even after she gave up the two runs, she came in and got with the team and went out and did her job.
“The thing at this time of year in postseason, you’ve gotta be able to do that. Crap can happen sometimes."
O’Toole, who became Arizona’s first 30-game winner since Kenzie Fowler, also made what Candrea deemed to be a “web gem.”
In the fourth inning, O’Toole snagged a chopper to her left and scurried over to first for the out. First baseman Jessie Harper had broken toward second and was late getting over to the bag.
“Not many pitchers are going to do that,” Candrea said. “That’s why she’s on the (Pac-12) All-Defensive Team. Most pitchers will stop and say ‘Jess, where are you?’ She just motored over there.”
Jessie Harper was retired in the bottom of the fifth, extending her slump to 0 for 13. But as she jogged back to the dugout, Candrea rewarded her with a high five.
The freshman had lined out to center, showing that her timing was on point and she was able to square up the pitch — two things she was unable to do in previous at-bats.
“Sometimes you have to celebrate the small victories in this game, especially as a hitter,” Candrea said.
And you always have to celebrate the big victories.
Harper snapped out of her slump in her very next at-bat, drilling a walk-off single to lift the Wildcats to a 3-2 victory on her 19th birthday.
It was a line drive into center field. Of course.
“It felt good to see her come through on her birthday,” Candrea said.
Selman not herself
Baylor ace Kelsee Selman pitched just 2 1⁄3 innings on Friday, her shortest start since Feb. 22 against McNeese State.
She was pulled after allowing two runs on four hits, including a solo homer to Mauga in the third inning.
“She threw a pitch that she wanted back and many people have with Mauga,” head coach Glenn Moore said.
Moore said Selman was a “little rusty.” The senior right-hander only pitched once in Regionals and was supposed to throw in an intersquad game this week in practice, but it got rained out.
No matter, Selman (23-8, 1.57 ERA) will get a chance to redeem herself on Saturday as Moore said she will start in the circle for the second straight game.
“We’re playing one game at a time,” Moore said. “That’s our philosophy anyway. We’ve been playing three-games series all year and we continued to fight in all of those series. ... These are warriors I have right here.”
First pitch between No. 2 Arizona (52-7) and No. 15 Baylor (46-13) is set for 6 p.m. and it will be broadcast on ESPN.
The Wildcats, one win away from reaching the Women’s College World Series, are likely to start left-hander Taylor McQuillin (16-3, 1.72), who has tossed nine scoreless innings in the postseason.
You can follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire