Baylor walked Mauga four times, three of which were intentional. The other walk was on five pitches. The pro-Arizona crowd was not happy.
“That stuff doesn’t even bother me,” said Baylor starter Kelsee Selman, who issued the free passes. “It more so just makes me laugh. If it was the other way around, they probably wouldn’t pitch to her either.”
Indeed. Entering Saturday, Mauga was hitting 6 for 11 with three homers and six RBIs in the postseason.
Also: she is also one of the best power hitters the sport as ever seen, as she is just three homers shy of tying the NCAA’s all-time home run record.
Walking Mauga is sensible, though it did come back to bite the Bears in one inning.
After Mandie Perez hit an RBI single to put Arizona up 3-2 in the sixth, an intentional walk to Mauga moved Perez up into scoring position, where she would be knocked in by Mo Mercado’s RBI single a batter later.
“The game is not played with one person, so I felt like they were giving us a free base,” head coach Mike Candrea said of Baylor’s approach to Mauga. “Is it frustrating? Yeah. Did I understand what they were doing? Yeah. It’s a matter of the rest of our kids picking up the slack.”
That instance aside, the Wildcats were limited to four runs with Mauga’s bat glued to her shoulder, and Baylor scored four runs in the sixth to complete a comeback victory and force a winner-take-all game on Sunday.
Don’t expect the Bears to pitch to Mauga in that game, either.
“It’ll happen again tomorrow,” Candrea said on Saturday. “She probably won’t see another pitch, but we’ll be ready.”
Baylor not O’Fooled
When Danielle O’Toole relieved Taylor McQuillin in the sixth inning, a simple, yet valuable, message was passed along in Baylor’s dugout.
“They were all saying changeup,” said Sydney Christiansen, who ended up ripping a game-tying double down the left field line.
O’Toole is known for her devastating off-speed pitch but the Bears, having faced her three times this season, weren’t phased by it.
They scored three runs on four hits off the left-hander in 2⁄3 of an inning to complete the 6-4 comeback victory.
“The girls are doing an outstanding job of fighting up there with the off-speed,” said Baylor head coach Glenn Moore. “When you change speeds as well as she does, you’ve gotta be in a different timing. You can’t just go up there and swing away. She makes you look bad even when you are at the right timing. It’s almost like she’s saying ‘hey, I’m throwing a changeup’ and you’re still missing it many times. She’s that good.”
It happened to Christensen, who swung out of her shoes on a changeup before lacing a similar pitch for a double.
“It’s awfully tough sometimes when you see a kid look really bad an off-speed (pitch) to not throw it again,” Candrea said.
Prior to Saturday’s relief appearance, O’Toole had allowed just two runs against the Bears in 14 innings. The senior tossed a five-hit shutout against Baylor on Feb. 11, then threw seven innings of two-run ball on Friday night.
Maybe Baylor is catching on?
“I think we’ll learn from it and move forward, but we’re going to do what we do,” Candrea said. “It’s kind of hard at this stage of the game to change what you do, but yes I’m sure we’ll make some subtle changes and if that’s what’s happening obviously we’ll pick up on that and make an adjustment.”
A year ago, the Wildcats were in a nearly identical scenario as they will be in on Sunday. Arizona won Game 1 of the Auburn Super Regional, but lost Game 2, forcing a winner-take-all Game 3.
Auburn won that game and Arizona fell short of a Women’s College World Series appearance.
But the good news for Arizona this time around is it’s playing at home. The Wildcats enter Sunday’s game with a 30-3 home record and they did not lose a home series all season.
That includes three-game series against top-25 teams like Oregon, ASU, and Washington, which is why Arizona feels comfortable heading into the Super Regional finale against Baylor.
“I think our Pac-12 schedule helps that,” Candrea said. “We play three-game series for a reason. It’s kind of how I approach it right now. We have to win a three-game series.”
Game 3 is set to begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday at Hillenbrand Stadium. It will be broadcast on ESPNU.
The winner will advance to the Women’s College World Series and will face No. 10 Oklahoma in Oklahoma City next weekend.
Should Arizona win, it would be its first WCWS appearance since 2010 but its 23rd in program history.
“You have to remember back in the day there were just eight Regionals,” Candrea said. “There were only 32 teams. You win your regional, you’re in the College World Series. Then they expanded the field to 64 which brought in the Super Regional format and obviously that does make it more challenging, but everyone in the country has to do that to get there. It’s no different for us than it is for anyone else.
“But yeah, there’s a hell of a lot of parity in the country. We know that. Like I told the kids, nothing is going to come easy. You’ve gotta earn you way and so [Sunday] we need to get up, have a good breakfast, and come in here and get ourselves ready to go out and battle and compete.”
You can follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire